American-Scottish alternative rock band Garbage has always played a major part in the alternative rock scene (albeit with an increasing emphasis on synth elements). Formed more than 20 years ago and still comprised of Shirley Manson, Butch Vig, Duke Erikson, and Steve Marker, the band dominated ’90s radio with hits like “Special”, “Vow”, and “I Think I’m Paranoid”; fortunately, they’ve kept up the pace over the last 16 years, too, with their sixth LP, Strange Little Birds, receiving a lot of acclaim earlier this year.
Naturally, the band is equally renowned for its concerts, which are typically highly colorful, engaging, and energetic. Their show at The Fillmore Philadelphia on 30 June proved to be no exception, as the nearly two-hour spectacle felt like a vibrant and intense celebration from beginning to end, demonstrating not only how beloved Garbage remains by fans, but also how well they can still rock out.
Just as Garbage inherently takes audiences back two decades at times, opening act Kristin Kontrol transported them to the glitzy synth pop flair of the ’80s. Vocally, frontwoman Kristin Welchez (formerly known as Dee Dee of Dum Dum Girls) perfectly embodied the wistful yet resolute air of singers like Björk, Annie Lennox, Madonna, and Siouxsie Sioux; aesthetically, she noirish appearance added to the vibe (plus, her backing band wore all black, which helped her seize the spotlight). As for her selections, they consisted almost entirely of tracks from her newest effort, X-Communicate (Sub Pop Records), including highlights like “Show Me”, “X-Communicate“, and “Smoke Rings”. (Interestingly, she began with a B-side, “Baby Are You In”.) She frequently added a bit of performance art as she sang, too, such as when her arms imitated a moving clock during “Face 2 Face”. All in all, her attention to detail (both musically and visually) and clear passion for her retro niche made her routine very memorable.
About 30-minutes later (9:00PM), and amidst deafening cheers, Garbage took the stage (with guest drummer Eric Gardner filling in for Vig, who couldn’t be there due to illness). Complemented by a large red banner that hung behind the drum kit (with the word “Garbage” written in white, surrounded by colorless leopards), the group appeared as the unassuming but undeniably cool rock icons they’ve always been (with signature attire such as Marker’s baseball cap and Erikson’s fedora). With her pink hair and black shawl, Manson reigned over the crowd like a glamorous punk rock queen, basking in their admiration while also showing complete humility at every turn. Throughout the set, various colored lights moved in sequence with the music, so while it wasn’t an especially elaborate endeavor, it still impressed by helping to bring the sentiments of the songs to life.
Surprisingly, the setlist didn’t prioritize Strange Little Birds; rather, almost all of Garbage’s half dozen studio records felt adequately represented, both in terms of singles and other album cuts. For example, “Supervixen” (from 1995’s eponymous debut) started things off and was followed by Version 2.0‘s “I Think I’m Paranoid”. Afterward, several other older favorites were replicated, including “Stupid Girl”, “Special” (which began in the wrong key, to the band’s humorous chagrin), “Push It”, and “Only Happy When It Rains” (which was a bit slowed down and blanketed in blue lights), as well as “My Lover’s Box” (during which Manson played a pink guitar) and “The Trick Is to Keep Breathing”. As for their third full-length, 2001’s Beautiful Garbage, only “Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)” was featured; however, it closed out the formal performance and was dedicated to the LGBT community, which was a nice touch and made it a standout moment of the night.
As for the quartet’s latter three releases, an equal amount of standouts were replicated. Bleed Like Me (2005) was embodied by its title track, “Sex Is Not the Enemy”, and “Why Do You Love Me”, while 2012’s penultimate Not Your Kind of People contributed “Automatic Systematic Habit”, “Blood for Poppies”, and “Beloved Freak” in consecutive order, with “Control” coming in a bit later. Fortunately, the best cut from Strange Little Birds, “Even Though Our Love Is Doomed“, was recreated with powerful accuracy (and stunning white lights), as were the first three pieces from the record (with both “Sometimes” and “Empty” launching the encore trio). Curiously, the band concluded the night with “#1 Crush”, an international B-side to “Vow” that appeared on the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. Covered in frenzied red and purple lights, Manson ended up writhing along the stage as sang, getting lost in the moment and demonstrating how much she still gets absorbed in her material.
Likewise, every song they did was met with cheers from the audience, many of whom no doubt grew up with this music, so they couldn’t help but sing and clap alongside every moment. In this way, Garbage’s concert at the Fillmore Philadelphia was as much a celebration of their own discography as it was a nostalgic return to the adolescent years of their fans.