Fiery Scot Shirley Manson is still the original British grunge girl.
The record stormed mainstream charts across the globe and even picked up two Grammy nominations for the single "Stupid Girl", in categories "Best Rock Song" and "Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group". Garbage didn’t clinch either award, but this kind of critical acclaim saw them placed on the map of bigger players, as colleagues and competitors, nonetheless.
Fast-forward two decades, to 2015 and the band announced their "20 Years Queer Tour" -- a celebration of Garbage live with the inclusion of a few rare B-sides. Before the tour kicked off, the quartet treated fans to a rerelease of Garbage, remastered and featuring remixes of the original songs.
After notching 16 goliath stateside concerts on the "20 Years Queer Tour" bedpost, Garbage landed in Europe for 10 concluding shows, including a second consecutive night at London’s O2 Academy Brixton.
Considering it was Monday night – usually the pit of the weekly social calendar – the south-of-the-river venue was noticeably buzzing with tangible excitement for such a unique evening of music.
Upon entering the Academy, a white sheet was visibly exhibited on the stage, which separated the audience from the backline. As the house lights dimmed, a video reel of mixed professional and amateur clips of the band in their formative days was projected onto the sheet, whilst "Alien Sex Fiend" played. After a few minutes, the foursome’s opaque silhouettes could be seen through the sheet and they commenced with a performance of "Subhuman" -- not the most impactful song to serve to a crowd salivating with anticipation, but everyone was too psyched to be in the flesh-and-bones presence of such an awe-inspiring band that seldom plays live, to care.
When the curtain dropped before the second song of the night, "Supervixen", to reveal Garbage to their adoring subjects, a definitive colour scheme was revealed. Feminine and effeminate pink. Frontwoman Shirley Manson wore a pink '60s-style mini-dress and had a long, pink feather boa draped over her microphone stand -- matching the artwork of Garbage. Even her trademark ruby-red hair had been dyed dark pink at the roots, fading into a lighter rose-colour and finishing with dirty blonde tips. she’s most definitely still the original British grunge girl. Butch Vig’s bass drums were proudly skinned with the debut album artwork cover and as he sat majestically behind his transparent twin drum shields, the whole stage was bathed in fuchsia light.
"Sexy" and "Queer" flashed up on the digital screens behind the band in black and white – only one track could possibly be played next; "Queer". Well, it was the 20 Years Queer Tour, after all.
Manson moved with confidence and poise, before stopping to address the sold out room sweetly, in a soft Scottish accent; professing that it has been a privilege to play for so many years and that the band don’t distinguish between age and gender. Which is good, because the average demographic of the crowd was practically non-existent. There were kids present who weren’t even born when Garbage came out, and in contrast, Shirley informed the audience that her almost-80-year-old father was there for the second night in a row; praising him for always rocking hard and having an adventurous spirit and a beautifully open mind.
In addition to playing their own material, Garbage reverently launched into "The Butterfly Collector" by the Jam, after introducing it as the first cover version they ever did, because the Jam inspired them with their social-political stance. Shirley marched around the stage in a circular motion like a prowling lioness; moshing and hitching her dress up to partially expose her black panties. You wouldn’t have thought that this was a woman pushing 50 – she looked like a million dollars and positively brimmed with kinetic energy.
After "Not My Idea", the set list changed from that of the night before and punters were seen desperately grappling with Setlist FM on their smartphones, unbeknownst to Garbage who calmly slid into the preppy "Driving Lesson".
Throughout the night, Shirley reminisced and regaled humorous anecdotes from the last two decades of Garbage – what life was like before they hit the big time, descriptions of the people they’ve worked with in the music industry and some of the different experiences that they’ve had together as a group. These bite-sized tales were like nuggets of pure gold for fans, allowing them to visualise snapshots of the band’s career history from their own words, or rather, Shirley’s.
Following the upbeat number "Fix Me Now", Shirley stood coquettishly with her hands on her hips and said, “Come here Lamb Chop, give it to me”, as her guitar tech handed her a peach-coloured Fender Stratocaster for "My Lover’s Box". Then, she spoke to the audience, “That’s Lamb Chop, he’s the most favourite guitar tech I’ve ever had. Aside from the one I married of course!”
Retiring her axe for a smattering of more tunes including fan favourites "Only Happy When It Rains" and "Stupid Girl" saw bodies in the venue bouncing around in every direction like a gargantuan bag of popping candy.
Shirley took the time to introduce each of her bespectacled bandmates one by one, and said of them collectively, “Everyone on stage is really special to me, but they f***ing annoy me most of the time and I annoy them!”
A deeply immersive and equally recognisable baseline denoted the start of "#1 Crush", a B-side that came to be curated on the original soundtrack for the 1996 movie William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, a much-beloved modern adaptation. The song is notoriously dark and brooding; in keeping with this temperament, Shirley dropped to the stage floor and writhed around, intensely impassioned. The band swiftly exited the stage, but soon reappeared to imminently settle up.
Garbage broke their ‘debut album and B-sides only’ set list rule during the encore, when Shirley issued a compelling speech about the struggle that the transgender community face for acceptance, before dedicating "Cherry Lips" to their ongoing activism and our intrinsic support. Glossy, red-painted lips pursued, puckered and blew kisses from the stage screens.
The gig finished with "Push It" from Garbage’s sophomore record Version 2.0 and the band warmly bid the contents of the O2 Academy Brixton a heart-felt farewell.
The important thing to know about "20 Years Queer Tour" is that it was a retrospective celebration of artistry, not a greatest hits tour. Which hopefully implies, that this isn’t the very last we’ve seen of Garbage. Not by a long shot.