Garbage

support Dutch Uncles
author AP date 02/11/15 venue Store Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

For me, Garbage ranks among those 90’s acts whose songs I barely remember and seldom listen to, yet the opportunity to watch them perform their 1995 debut “Garbage” in its entirety was too tempting to pass on. Still, I had feared the worst and formed preconceptions about Garbage being divas at this stage in their career when, an hour before tonight’s concert, the group’s management inexplicably rejected all of the photo release contracts they had been sent and thus cemented that there would be no photographers whatsoever shooting the band at this show. Fortunately, as we shall see, my pessimism turned out to be completely unfounded, though for obvious reasons you will have to bear with a single poor phone camera picture as you read through the review. There was, however, the matter of a support act to endure before the proceedings kicked into high gear, and it is with impressions of them that this article thus begins.

Dutch Uncles

When it comes to the British ensemble, as a disclaimer I must admit that these are strange tides for me, as this sort of alternative indie is pretty much kryptonite for me. My observations should therefore be viewed in the context of an outsider trying to remain fair and objective in the face of something that honestly, does not interest me in the slightest — and as you might already have guessed, the struggle is real. With an assortment of instruments ranging from a xylophone to a keyboard, electronic drum pad and the occasional tambourine, Dutch Uncles possess an eclectic style; quite fragile, yet with significant punch in the bass elements. None of this seems to appeal to the audience despite vocalist and pianist Duncan Wallis’ busting moves, with the most radical reactions during the opening trio “Babymaking”, “Fester” and “Decided Knowledge” restricted to a mixture of faint head bobbing and slight hip swaying courtesy of a tiny fraction of the sold out crowd. I suspect this has to do with two weaknesses affecting Dutch Uncles: firstly, the fact that virtually all of their songs appear to be based around a narrow rhythmic formula drawn from disco beats, and secondly the fact that by and large, their music is much too delicate and introspective to leave much of a lasting impression.

Not until the fourth song “Dressage” — the most ‘rock’-style track yet thanks to Wallis contributing with an additional guitar, like Mew without the deafening treble — is there the semblance of a memorable chorus, and although it must be said that Wallis’ falsetto based singing remains excellent throughout, Dutch Uncles are much too flat in the dynamics to tempt me to explore them further. What’s more, they appear to acknowledge the general disinterest of most people here when asking the obligatory question of whether we’re looking forward to Garbage and then proceeding to concede ”Alright, we’ll be quick then…”. The performance soon concludes on an unexpectedly chaotic note at the end of “Jetson”, the instruments descending into dissonance and Wallis screaming his lungs out before the musicians exit the stage abruptly, and without any sort of goodbye. I believe I speak for most people in attendance by asserting that Dutch Uncles are stylistically far too detached from the evening’s headliners to appeal to their fans, and as such, this eight-song set passes by without fanfare as something to be ridden out rather than be inspired by.

5

Garbage

The main proceedings begin with a thick white curtain in front of the stage, onto which a video intro dubbed “20 Years Queer” is projected as samples of “Alien Sex Fiend” sound from the background, and contrary to what I expect, the veil does not drop once the intro dissolves. Instead, the quartet appears behind it, with side switching strobe lights shrinking, distorting and magnifying their silhouettes to the tune of the blasting opener “Subhuman”. This is the first pillar in a storming start that takes us through “Supervixen” and the sex dripping “Queer” as well, reminding us just how many excellent songs Garbage wrote in their mid 90’s heyday, and how well these translate in the live setting when played at zero-fucks volume and accompanied by a mix so heavy and crisp that even Trent Reznor would bat his eyelids. At this point the curtain has finally dropped of course, to reveal the foursome comprising vocalist Shirley Manson, guitarists Steve Marker & Duke Erikson and drummer Butch Vig, as well as session bassist Daniel Shulman in top form and looking cool as ever.

Bizarrely, those that recognise the four tracks surrounding the well-known single “Queer” look to be a minority tonight, sticking out like a sore thumb from a largely docile audience with their wide grins and enthusiastic headbanging. I count myself among them and wonder, are most Garbage ‘fans’ really so naïve as to assume they never wrote a better song than “Only Happy When It Rains”? In spite of this my personal party continues unrelenting with a badass, almost Nine Inch Nail-esque rendition of “As Heaven is Wide” and not just because these songs are so energising — Garbage is performing with infectious gusto and swagger, and are yet to put a foot wrong during an initial quintet played without pause. Manson only pauses for a brief moment to say her hellos before proceeding with an obscure cover of The Jam’s “Butterfly Collector”, but once that piece concludes the time finally comes for Manson and her compatriots to prove they’re not about to fly past on autopilot. She extends a heartfelt thank you to the fans that have stuck by since the band’s inception in 1993, explaining that tonight, they only have plans to play songs from 1995 and 1996, including of course a full performance of their self-titled debut album as mentioned in the introduction to this article. Said cover song was apparently the b-side to a single even Manson herself does not remember, and it is her hope that we would be patient with some of these lesser known picks they’re in the mood for. I doubt that the vast majority of the attendees agree, but for yours truly at least, this is much more attractive prospect than the standard single-upon-single show Garbage could easily have played.

Never mind the rest of you, songs like “Not My Idea” and “Trip My Wire” are for me essential songs for the Garbage legacy, and it is ridiculous to me that the bouncy drive of the latter fails at sending the crowd off their feet, or that the gently tragic “Milk” in their wake is not received with swaying lighters. Granted, there are moments dotted across the evening that speak to me less, such as “Fix Me Now”, and also “Dog New Tricks” a little later. But they are so easily eclipsed by the magisterial delivery the consummate highlight, “My Lover’s Box”, added extra depth by Manson chipping in with additional guitar, as well as the beautifully mesmerising ballad “Sleep”. Here Manson stops to recall the band’s first headlining gig at Roskilde Festival ’98 — a performance widely regarded as a bit embarrassing by those that were there — during which intoxication and problems with her vocal chords meant she could barely muster a squeak, and how overwhelmed she was to witness the festival audience stepping in and roaring the lyrics in her stead. She also remarks that it must be peculiar for some of us to hear these slower songs now given how their two appearances at the festival, in 1998 and 2002, were focused solely on the more energising picks from their discography. Monologues like this give Garbage an air of intimacy, debunking once and for all my preconceptions about their supposed rock star arrogance. They’re very present, and know whom their audience consists of.

As the performance winds toward a conclusion, the Monday blues that has been hampering a proper crowd response all evening has dissipated a little and people are looking much more alive during tracks like “Stupid Girl” and the aforementioned “Dog New Tricks”. For me, these and “#1 Crush” translate into a bit of a lull though, and despite the fact that I, too, recognise “Only Happy When It Rains” as a banging track, it isn’t until the final song in the ordinary set, “Vow”, that the magnificence of the concert is restored. In the obligatory encore, we are given another cover in the form of Vic Chesnutt’s “Kick My Ass” — a deeply personal track for Manson, who met the paraplegic musician on her first-ever U.S. tour with her first band Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie — and another obscure pick sporting that hard Nine Inch Nails vibe dubbed “Driving Lesson”, which reinforces my impression that most people are here for the hit singles and not to celebrate Garbage as a band. Manson and her cohorts proceed to break their vow by playing “Bad Boyfriend” and “Why Do You Love Me” off their 2005 album “Bleed Like Me” to finish it off, but not before revealing that a new album will surface in the spring of 2016. Certainly based on what I’ve seen here, that does not sound like such an ominous prospect — I would certainly love to see a repeat of these festivities on, say, the Arena stage at Roskilde Festival, or perhaps even on the main stage at NorthSide Festival. A thoroughly convincing show bursting with nostalgia inducing, quality material.

Setlist:

  • 01. Subhuman
  • 02. Supervixen
  • 03. Queer
  • 04. Girl Don’t Come
  • 05. As Heaven is Wide
  • 06. The Butterfly Collector (The Jam cover)
  • 07. Not My Idea
  • 08. Trip My Wire
  • 09. Milk
  • 10. Fix Me Now
  • 11. My Lover’s Box
  • 12. Sleep
  • 13. A Stroke of Luck
  • 14. #1 Crush
  • 15. Stupid Girl
  • 16. Dog New Tricks
  • 17. Only Happy When It Rains
  • 18. Vow

—Encore—

  • 19. Kick My Ass (Vic Chesnutt cover)
  • 20. Driving Lesson
  • 21. Bad Boyfriend
  • 22. Why Do You Love Me

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