“Twenty years we’ve been coming to London and every time we have, I’ve spent the whole day on the toilet, being so neurotic, because I feel like we come from the United Kingdom.” Now that’s some statement from an ever present and seemingly unflappable frontwoman that makes you think twice about a band that come across as so strong and confident that a show at London’s Troxy venue should be a walk in the park.
Playing their first headline show since the release of sixth studio album Strange Little Birds just last week, Scottish-American electronic rockers Garbage hit up the East London venue for a proper outing of their latest release alongside a good selection from their extensive back catalogue following last year’s 20 Years Queer tour, which celebrated the 20th anniversary of their eponymous hit debut LP.
Comprised of singer and guitarist Shirley Manson, bass player Duke Erikson, guitarist Steve Marker and drummer Butch Vig, the group made waves in the late nineties with their first two albums during a period where American grunge music was fading into alternative rock and Britpop was at its height. But tonight’s show was played without Vig in-tow, the drummer sitting out the group’s European dates on doctor’s orders and replaced by Smashing Pumpkins and Morrissey drummer Matt Walker. The touring line-up is rounded out by former Jane’s Addiction bass player Eric Avery, that band themselves playing a show across town at Kentish Town’s Forum venue tonight.
Appearing on the East London stage encased in shadows, the five-piece kicked off with brief Strange Little Birds opener Sometimes, frontwoman Shirley Manson, dressed in a leopard-print outfit and trading her signature fiery red hair for a bottled pink, hugging a matching leopard-print microphone stand for the sombre and sparsely instrumented tune, singing “sometimes I’d rather take a beating, sometimes I’d rather take a punch”. Song number two from the new record was next, Empty stepping things up and getting the crowd bouncing along.
The unfamiliar new material certainly served as a warm up ahead of the band’s biggest hit, 1996 single Stupid Girl riling the entire audience of the 2,600-capacity venue with its signature rhythm, nicked from The Clash‘s 1980 hit Train In Vain. Manson made the most of the former Art Deco cinema’s stage, spinning about, stepping up onto the speakers (not monitors) lining the stage edge and and leering at the crowd. Version 2.0’s Special continued the hit parade, the upbeat 1998 single encouraging noticeable audience participation with 2012’s Blood For Poppies continuing the tempo.
“Thank you London” the 49-year-old frontwoman said in her broad Edinburgh accent, addressing the crowd for the first time. “I can’t quite believe we’re here so soon after the last tour, it’s a treat for us and it’s fantastic to be back here at the Troxy.” Dedicating fourth album title track Bleed Like Me to the persistent Garbage fans, the quintet broke into the slow start to 2005 single, the group’s signature dance-influenced rhythm underpinning an otherwise slow rock song.
Making a reference to the band’s strong LGBT community following and support, Manson took some time out to reflect on the recent atrocity in Orlando saying: “We have always made a point to speak whenever people we love get attacked.” “The Situation is more complex than I could possibly fathom” she continued. “So this song goes out to whoever is out there who means ill to the LGBT community, anyone who’s ever muttered a homophobic slur” ahead of Bleed Like Me cut Sex Is Not The Enemy.
Slow Beautiful Garbage song So Like A Rose was dedicated to British celebrity photographer Matt Irwin who sadly took his own life in May this year, “this one’s for you baby” Mason dedicated, strapping on a guitar. Version 2.0’s I Think I’m Paranoid kicked the show into the next gear, the 1998 single still sounding fresh some 18 years after it first came out and enticing even those at the back of the venue to turn back towards the stage and rock along which Manson pointing her mic out to the crowd, handing over vocal duties for sections of the top-ten single.
Acknowledging the absence of Garbage co-founder Butch Vig, the sassy frontwoman said “I want to give a big shout out to Butch who’s stuck at home in Los Angeles. If it was me, I’d literally be chewing the flesh off my bones.” The otherworldly-sounding Automatic Systematic Habit was dedicated to the missing Vig, the pop-rock single described by Manson as his favourite cut from Not Your Kind of People featuring live vocoder effects from the frontwoman.
Downbeat Version 6.0 track Blackout’s origins were described as coming from a request to write a song for a vampire movie, only the third new album song of the night before Version 2.0’s Push It and the band’s debut single Vow upped the tempo once more, leading into main set closer Only Happy When It Rains, the 1995 single featuring a re-worked down-tempo first quarter.
An encore of dark and downbeat new album track Even Though Our Love Is Doomed followed by Bleed Like Me cut Why Do You Love Me is rounded out with 2002 single Cherry Lips, it’s chant-along “go baby go” letting the audience depart the venue having sung their hearts out while bouncing along to the fun pop stylings of this long-lasting rock band.
With a styling that spreads their rock roots across a variety of genres including trip-hop, techno and grunge to result in a surprisingly radio-friendly fare, Strange Little Birds takes our journey with Garbage full-circle with a sound so reminiscent of their 1995 debut that it might be interpreted as some sort of pastiche while remaining so fresh that it could easily have been produced by one of the current crop of up and comers making waves on the indie-rock scene.
And it’s easy to see why. Guitarists Duke Erikson & Steve Marker and drummer Butch Vig are all producers outside of Garbage with Vig famous for producing albums and singles for the likes of Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Green Day, Muse and Foo Fighters and for remixing tracks across a number of musical genres. Meanwhile, frontwoman Shirley Manson has collaborated with Debbie Harry, Gavin Rossdale and Serj Tankian outside of her work with Garbage as well as taking on the role of a liquid metal Terminator facing off against Lena Headey’s Sarah Connor for television series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
Garbage play Nottingham’s Rock City before mixing European and American summer festival slots with US headline shows. Strange Little Birds was released on June 10th on Garbage’s own Stunvolume label.
Live review of Garbage @ Troxy by Kalpesh Patel on 13th June 2016.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate