Garbage made a welcome return to Toronto this past Monday night in support of their first album in seven years, the excellent Not Your Kind Of People. The band's charged 100 minute performance thoroughly pleased the sold-out Phoenix Concert Theatre audience, many of whom (such as myself) probably thought they'd never get to experience the alt rock veterans live again after a lengthy hiatus stemming from tour burnout and a disenchantment with the music business.
Vocalist and frontwoman Shirley Manson, emanating a stylish coolness, turned in a reliably dynamic performance, balancing vampy stage theatrics with superb sounding vocals. This was my fourth time seeing the band and she's never sounded anything less than great (she also seemed genuinely thrilled to be back playing live). When the band's monitors crapped out during the beginning of "I Think I'm Paranoid", she deftly deflected the awkwardness of the moment by filling the few minutes of downtime with humour, crowd interaction (meeting a woman who had come all the way from Latvia), and whiskey shots. Flanking Manson onstage were Steve Marker and Duke Erikson (both on guitars and keyboards), with Butch Vig, of course, on drums, and touring bassist Eric Avery (formerly of Jane's Addiction). Now well into their second month of touring, the group is running like a well-oiled machine. I never fail to be impressed with how well Garbage recreate the sonically dense aspects of their albums, as the versatile Vig, Marker, and Erikson juggle their respective "traditional" instruments with the more technological requirements of the band's songs, such as having to trigger samples, or, say, Marker replicating the harmonica sound from the Zeppelin-ish "Control" on his keyboard. By the way, the perpetually stoic Erikson deserves special mention for rockin' a three-piece suit for most of the show, despite the stifling temperature inside the club.
The setlist provided a good representation of the band's best material, leaning heaviest on tracks from their self-titled debut with "Supervixen", "Queer", "Stupid Girl", "Milk", "Only Happy When It Rains", and concert-closer "Vow". Garbage's follow-up, Version 2.0, was also well-represented by "Temptation Waits", "Special", "I Think I'm Paranoid", and "Push It". Four songs from Not Your Kind Of People were featured and I was pleasantly surprised with how enthusiastically "Control", first single "Blood For Poppies", "Man On A Wire", and "Automatic Systematic Habit" were received by the crowd. The songs are strong, as was the band's performance of them, but it's always a bit of a crapshoot in terms of how an audience will respond to brand new material. Rounding out the set were a couple of Beautiful Garbage tracks ("Shut Your Mouth" and a lively "Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)"), three from my favourite Garbage album, 2005's Bleed Like Me ("Metal Heart", "Why Do You Love Me", and "Bad Boyfriend" delivered some of the heaviest music of the show), along with soundtrack songs "#1 Crush" and "The World Is Not Enough". The latter James Bond theme probably scored big points from a lot of diehards for its cachet in terms of obscure catalog material, but it's far from the band's best work. It, along with the similarly sleepy "Milk" (which works much better on the album, in my opinion) were the only two songs of the show that failed to maintain the rest of the set's momentum and win me over. Creating setlists on future tours in support of new music (*fingers crossed*) should present quite a challenge to the group - hopefully audiences aren't too underserved with material from the relatively less revered Bleed Like Me and Beautiful Garbage albums.
Supervixen/Temptation Waits/Shut Your Mouth/Queer/Metal Heart/Stupid Girl/Why Do You Love Me/Control/#1 Crush/Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)/Blood For Poppies/Special/Milk/Man On A Wire/I Think I'm Paranoid/Bad Boyfriend/Only Happy When It Rains/Push It
Automatic Systematic Habit/The World Is Not Enough/Vow
Oddest sight of the night: the tall concertgoer located about halfway between the stage and soundboard who shot the show's opening song on his iPad, holding the tablet right over his head and blocking my sightline of Manson (and I'm not short at 6'3). Thankfully, he put it away for most of the rest of the show. People constantly holding up cell phones and digital cameras at concerts is annoying enough - is this the next step? I know tablets are popular and all, but who the hell brings an iPad to a concert at a packed club?