Garbage Turns Greek Theatre Tragedy Into Triumph: Concert Review

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images
Shirley Manson of Garbage performs during the band's "20 Years Queer Tour" at The Fox Theater on Oct. 7, 2015 in Oakland, California.

Tonight Shirley Manson and her Garbage cohorts played just the third date of their short 20 Year Queer tour at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, and nothing came off as planned. Nothing. “Everything quite literally has gone to the f---ing shitter,” is how Manson described it, four songs in. But then nothing with Garbage ever has come off as planned, as Manson will attest to during one of about half-a-dozen between-song monologues, that were all ad-libbed to distract the fans as a team of fidgeters tried to fix every sound and tech problem known to man and steer the show to some kind of victory lap. 

“Our career has been filled with Spinal Tap moments!” admitted Manson, as drummer Butch Vig knowingly knocked out a 'b-boom-tsh' after her. “Hasn't the past 20 years been one messy old motherf---ing ride?” The L.A. resident said the band had been rehearsing the set for a month. Manson, however, had to veer off set-list entirely due to countless hiccups from the moment they finished opener "Supervixen" and the transparent curtain which had thus far half-obscured them from view failed to draw itself back. It half hung in there, helplessly, and a backstage body had to come and shlep it over to achieve lift-off.

Butch Vig on Garbage, 20 Years Later: 'We Had No Intention of Making Garbage a Full-Time Band'

“We thought [this gig] would be smooth like silk and fluffy like pink feathers!” Manson said, against a divinely '90s backdrop of grime-y pastel lighting. Her hair, dress, feather boa and eyeshadow all match the pink tones of the original artwork for debut album Garbage which they intended to play in full tonight. “We were going to play the first side of the record without me saying a f---ing word,” she laughed heartily. “But f--- I need to improvise and so do you! The motherf---ing shit is about to hit. Be prepared. Be willing to adapt. To adapt is to survive!” 

Manson – one of the most prominently controversial figures in '90s alternative music -- made a reputation of being the opposite of predictable. “I'm sure there's one asshole in the audience that will ask me for a refund tomorrow on Twitter but you can go f--- yourself!” The audience roared with cheers. “You're gonna get something unique tonight. So Tweet at me, but I'm gonna charge you double motherf---er.”

The band is celebrating two decades of being the opposite of rubbish, proving themselves to be indispensable when it comes to hard melodic pop with provocative messaging and forward-looking production. 

Throughout the night, Manson apologized profusely for her lack of professionalism in addressing the audience so starkly, admitting to how much her manager is already having a meltdown at the thought of what tomorrow has in store once the dust has settled. “He has his head in his hands already,” she said, pointing. It's a testament to her command as a band leader and her still-magnetic power as a performer that she can wing a sold-out gig at the open-air, 6,000 capacity Hollywood amphitheatre, and all with an enormous grin on her face. 

Eventually she abandoned the plan completely. "I feel so discombobulated. I'm gonna need a whiskey shot. I'm not fucking joking." A whiskey shot comes out and down the hatch it goes. To allow time for the people backstage to “reboot all the shit”, including the horrendous feedback on her microphone, Manson orders her band to play an acoustic cover of a Vic Chesnutt song. Chesnutt passed away in 2009 and Manson was visibly shook as she thought back on fond memories. “He taught me a lot about songwriting, he taught me a lot about being truthful. He taught me a lot about laughing my f---ing ass off. So this is a song called 'Kick My Ass'”.

Garbage: Label 'Washed Their Hands of Us'

The moment is among many of tonight's highlights which also included a cover of The Jam's "Butterfly Collector"("It's essentially about star-f---ing") and a special version of "Stupid Girl," made so by the welcoming of original bassist Daniel Schulman to the stage. Due to the nature of the evening's throwback to that initial breakthrough period, Manson introduced “obscure” b-sides, such as "Girl Don't Come", which she argued was a prototype feminist anthem. "We don't expect 90% of the audience to know some of these,” she said, but then delivered them with as much silhouette-throwing and body-shifting, as she did the big hitters ("Vow", "Queer", "Only Happy When It Rains"). “These songs don't really belong to us. They belong to you guys,” she said. “You have allowed us to be privy to your nutty terrifyingly heartbreaking things. We share the same lifetime literally."

She's right. As those razor-sharp riffs screamed out across the amphitheatre, the cigarette smoke in the air suddenly reminded me of the cigarette smell of my hairdresser's fingertips, the hairdresser I went to in Glasgow in the 1990s and asked to die my hair like Shirley Manson's. The journey of the audience here is one and the same with Garbage's journey through rough and smooth over the past two decades, led by a human who was never afraid to show fault. So it's fitting that she must admit to many faults tonight. And it's the faults that make the show. Introducing the song "Trip My Wire", Manson says she “hates” it when bands repeat themselves, so she decided now three nights into the tour to interview Butch Vig live onstage about his memories of the song. He thought. He responded. "This one turned into a fierce number because you don't wanna f--- with Shirley M". Except the microphones, and the lighting, and the sound desk, and, well, all the technology here present…

"This is just beyond!” she said towards the show's closing, which climaxed with a performance of "Milk" -- the first song Manson wrote for Garbage. She recalled nervously approaching her bandmates with an idea, they recorded it immediately and then she went home to her hotel in Madison, Wisconsin and listened to it 100 times. “It still gives me magical feelings.” The white light shining on her porcelain skin as she seduces the crowd renders her totally ageless. But unlike other legends, Manson tonight proved herself fallible. You could see in her eyes how much this means to her. “In this band we have severe mental problems," she said, repeatedly placing her hand over her mouth, trying to stop herself from inappropriately giggling. "We have self-esteem issues and I'm including myself in this. You would think after 20 years we would develop some sick confidence. We have none. I am not running as President of the United States. Nor am I going to run for Queen of England.” Well, it's a damn shame. She might be the only leader who could handle any challenge.