Monday, October 19, 2015

Has It Shirley Bin 20 Years?: Garbage Recycles Its Remarkable Beginnings at the Riv -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

w/ opening act Torres
Riviera Theatre, Chicago
October 17, 2015

There are few bands I've followed across their entirety any more so than Garbage.

I became aware of their 1995 self-titled debut album soon after its release, in part because of the novelty of three Madison, WI-based producers--including Butch Vig who had famously produced Nirvana's Nevermind--rekindling their own musical chops, starting a band and recruiting a striking Scottish singer named Shirley Manson.

With its heap of superb songs like "Only Happens When It Rains," "Stupid Girl," "Not My Idea," "Vow" and more, Garbage became one of my favorite albums of the '90s.

I didn't see the band live supporting album no. 1, but have caught them on tours for their four subsequent releases, for a total of 7 times including Saturday night at the Riv. (And I still rue that their 2002 tour with No Doubt didn't include a Chicago date.)

In 1998, I even briefly met the band at a CD signing for their second album, Version 2.0, at the now-extinct Tower Records on Clark Street. As shown, I also got each of the members--Manson, Vig, Duke Erickson and Steve Marker--to sign a photo I had brought, in addition to the CD booklet.

So I have always been a big fan and considerable admirer, including of Manson's wonderfully-opinionated Facebook feed.

Hence, along with a couple good friends, I eagerly bought a ticket to the Chicago stop on their 20 Years Queer tour celebrating their debut album and named for the second song on it.

Of course, back in June when tickets went on sale, I couldn't assume the show would coincide with the Cubs' first game in the NLCS.

But such is my regard for the band, despite not being quite as dazzled by 2012 and 2013 concerts as some earlier ones, that I forewent a rare chance to watch the Cubs in late-October to attend the concert.

And while I again found Garbage eminently enjoyable but not mind-blowingly phenomenal, alongside a group of friends that had swelled to six and with whom I had a nice dinner beforehand--abetted by another friend texting me constant updates about the Cubs' 4-2 loss to the Mets--the show was good enough for me not to rue my decision.

With the setlist devoted almost entirely to the debut album, its outtakes--included in the deluxe version you can find on Spotify--and other material the band wrote or covered in the mid-'90s, it was nice to hear the highlights mentioned above alongside some rarer tunes.

The show began with an opening set by a band called Torres, which reminded me and some of my pals of Kate Bush, Aimee Mann, Portishead, Radiohead, the Velvet Underground and--because of the female lead singer's hairstyle and garb--Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. Which isn't to say they reached any of these heights, despite sounding pretty decent on a number of songs.

After a brief video respective on Garbage was accompanied by a recorded version of Garbage outtake "Alien Sex Fiend," the headline band launched into "Subhuman"--also left off the debut--while shrouded by a white scrim.

The not officially sold out, but pretty-well packed crowd went nuts as the curtain dropped and "Supervixen," the first song on the first album proper, was blasted into the balcony by the quartet, augmented as on recent tours by Jane's Addiction bassist Eric Avery.

Following "Queer," the band eschewed the album's third song (and first single), "Only Happy When It Rains," for placement late in the main set.

Though the debut album holds up rather distinctively 20 years on, not every song is quite a home run--which actually allowed me occasion to check the Cubs' score--and while outtakes like "Girl Don't Come," "Trip My Wire" and Jam cover "The Butterfly Collector" were nice augmentations to the actual album, there were some periods of relative lull. (As a huge fan of The Jam, I loved hearing Manson relay how much the great British trio meant to her.)

By and large, the lighting design was also impressive, but often kept the entire band shrouded in darkness, if Manson usually a bit less so.

With its three grizzled studio denizens and petite, fashionable singer, Garbage has always somewhat resembled a kidnapping, and as Shirley noted onstage that she often gets much of the focus while the other three do much of the work, it seemed a bit odd that the men were often rather unnoticeable. (I literally only saw Vig well when he was leaving the stage.)

Manson did nothing to diminish her status as one of rock's best frontwomen ever--and even one of the world's coolest people--but though in great voice and prowling the stage frequently, she didn't seem quite the dervish she was in the past.

But even if not mesmerizing throughout, it was a good, fun concert that I was happy to attend with some great friends (and some new ones). Songs like "Only Happens When It Rains," "Stupid Girl" and the show-closing "Push It"--the lone representative of Version 2.0--will always have a special place in my heart and, along with several other songs, they sounded great.

And it was great to hear what a special place Chicago holds for the band members, as Manson shared that it is where Vig, Erickson and Marker first heard her sing (when she was still fronting a band called Angelfish).

The quality of the music the band created right from its onset is pretty remarkable--they never really topped Garbage, IMO--and I was happy to celebrate the 20 years of pleasure they've brought to my life.

Even if this show, like those in the recent past, wasn't quite--to borrow, in the best sense, the title of their 2007 hits compilation--absolute Garbage.

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