It seems risky to open a show with not just a 20-year-old B-side, but a slow, brooding 20-year-old B-side. It seems even riskier to follow it with another. But Garbage know exactly what they’re doing. Their bold opening gambit isn’t just a reminder of the band’s typically wilful approach, it’s a clear indication of their confidence in Version 2.0, the album they’re celebrating on their 20 Years Paranoid tour.
Three years ago they did something similar, revisiting their self-titled debut LP in full. The 20 Years Queer show was big on nostalgia, beginning with a 10-minute video of the band on their first tour interspersed with pop culture highlights from 1995. But, when played alongside stellar moments like I’m Only Happy When It Rains and Stupid Girl, some album tracks and rarities sounded dated, even tentative.
This time, there’s none of that. There’s no mention of 1998 or two decades, or anniversaries. There’s no backdrop of the iconic orange cover art, just a white backdrop to complement the minimalist, almost futuristic, staging. And even obscurities like the glittering Soldier Through This (which, Shirley Manson confesses, was written under duress in a few minutes) sound absolutely majestic and startlingly contemporary.
That’s no accident. Drummer Butch Vig and multi-instrumentalists Duke Erikson and Steve Marker approach the live setting with such recording-studio-precision that Brixton Academy has never sounded better.
All four band members (and low-profile touring bass player Eric Avery) play with a refreshing vitality. While Marker is all about guitar hero poses and a flailing right arm as he lays down one power chord after another, Erikson plays it cool, sneaking in surprises like a subtle new melody line on The Trick Is To Keep Bleeding. Vig at times leans back from his kit as if he’s remembering being a teenager playing for fun in a garage rather than keeping perfect time at one of the world’s most famous rock venues.
Manson is simply spellbinding, regardless of whether she’s standing absolutely still, looking and sounding like a torch singer on set opener Afterglow or lush, dramatic 007 theme song The World Is Not Enough; marching across the stage, her red cape dress billowing behind her, during BPM-overdrive songs like Special and I Think I’m Paranoid; or plays guitar while belting out, with all the talent of a diva, lyrics to Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams during a more-is-more extended version of You Look So Fine.
But ultimately most credit is due to Version 2.0 itself. The songs, unlike those on the band’s debut, were written by four musicians truly united (and invigorated) by two years on the road. And they were then recorded on such an early version of ProTools that even legendary producers like Vig couldn’t quite figure out how to use it properly, adding human imperfections to the otherwise cutting-edge recordings.
Obviously that human touch is even more evident in a live setting and Garbage embrace it. The final minute of Can’t Seem To Make You Mine has Manson playfully hitting notes on Erikson’s keyboard as he looks on, smiling. The jagged Temptation Waits takes an unexpected but thrilling detour through Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus.
Thanks to Manson’s hauntingly beautiful vocal, Medication and its refrain of “And still you call me co-dependent/ Somehow you lay the blame on me” sounds even more tragic. A dynamic Sleep Together plays up the extremes in volume and emotional intensity.
And it’s impossible to deny the human element when 5000 ecstatic people are rejoicing, singing back the choruses of the swaggering Push It, defiant When I Grow Up, and bouncy encore bonus Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!) like they were the hits of summer 2018.
Nostalgia may have been the catalyst for 20 Years Paranoid, but in Brixton Academy tonight there’s no sense of looking back. Instead, underlined by the inclusion of strident 2017 standalone single and anti-Trump rallying cry No Horses, Garbage are very much looking ahead to the next 20 years, confident not paranoid.
Review of Garbage at Brixton Academy on 14th September 2018 by Nils van der Linden. Photography by Belle Piec.