One mistake’s all it takes
and your life has come undone
Walk away cuz
you’re breakin’ up the girl
It’s a drag, I know it’s hard
but you’re tearin’ her apart
Walk away cuz
you’re breakin’ up the girl
When Garbage hit the radio in 1995, the band sounded like slices of my music collection had fused. I already owned a few tapes Butch Vig, their drummer and mix-master, produced: Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish, Nirvana’s Nevermind, and L7’s Bricks Are Heavy. I even admired bands who Shirley Manson, their lead singer, cited as significant: Cocteau Twins, Eurythmics, The Pretenders, and The Sundays. They had all the “right” influences; but, for whatever reason, I never bought a proper album. Instead, I reveled in their tunes whenever they popped on the radio. And, because I was always jumping channels so frequently in the mid-1990s, I wasn’t too worried about droughts between songs. Garbage seemed to be playing everywhere.
Although not as popular these days, the band hasn’t relied on ’90s nostalgia to keep them afloat. And they’ll never have to. They were among the vanguard of bands that helped define the pop-rock style that ricocheted across the decade. On many of their best-known songs, they fused elements of electric, industrial, trip-hop, noise, sampling, and orchestration behind multi-tracked guitars to deliver big hooks and incite countless sing-a-longs. But, oh, the deception! Their bubblegum melodies belied sinister lyrics. Case in point, Garbage penned some of the ’90s most evil songs: “#1 Crush,” I Think I’m Paranoid,” and “Only Happy When It Rains.” Their best number — “Stupid Girl” — ranks among the most memorably foreboding of the era. The only contemporaries in its weight class are things like “Closer” (Nine Inch Nails), “Criminal” (Fiona Apple), “Just One Fix” (Ministry), “No Excuses” (Alice in Chains), and “Shelf in the Room” (Days of the New).
So thankfully, Garbage were a dervish of dark and melodious during their show at Kings Theatre. Shirley Manson, in particular, with her crimson eye paint and gown flaming under the lights, embodied the dynamic flexing one part Siouxsie Sioux and the other Annie Lennox as she maneuvered about the stage. They did the upbeat and dour — “Special,” “The Trick Is to Keep Breathing” — and kept the crowd challenged with some 50-year-old covers: “Thirteen” by Big Star (1962) and “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” by the Seeds (1965). They even made space to honor their heroes. Ms. Manson slipped phrases from Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” into “You Look So Fine,” Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” into “Wicked Ways,” and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Happy House” into “Dumb.” They also did something completely unexpected.
While performing “No Horses,” Ms. Manson suddenly waned.
“F@ck it all! Stop! Stop!” she cried. “It would really help if I could hear myself signing!”
The band cut out. She turned away from the audience to confer with Butch Vig. Apparently, her earphones died.
After talking for a moment, she wavered, jokingly, “But you told me before not to do an audible tonight!”
“Warning: We’re in a whole new zone now,” Mr. Vig returned. “Whadda you think?”
“Yeah, I’m up for an audible.”
So Mr. Vig left his drums and moved centerstage. The house lights went up and he picked up a mic.
“Okay, okay. We f@cked that last one up. I’m really, really sorry,” he explained to the crowd. “We f@cked it up. Terribly.”
The people around me laughed.
“We’ve been doing some audibles so –“
“I f@cked it up,” Ms. Manson corrected.
Even more people laughed.
“So, what would you like to do for an audible?” Mr. Vig asked the audience. “What would you like to hear?”
There were shouts and murmurs, and I think someone hollered “Diaphragm!” But that wasn’t a song I ever heard.
Mr. Vig tallied the shouts and looked to Ms. Manson. “Shirley, do you wanna do ‘#1 Crush’?”
She hedged, then demanded of him in her big, Scottish drawl:
“How much is it worth to ya?”
They cracked up and hugged.
“Yeah, we can do ‘#1 Crush,’ she agreed, wryly. “I’m feelin’ pretty kind tonight.”
“Whew-hoooo!” someone called.
But, touching her earphones, she warned, “One ear sounds great, but the other ear sounds like f@ckin’ sh#t!”
The lights dipped down.
“Ahhh, well,” she scoffed.
And on they went.
Lyrics above from “Breaking Up the Girl” by Garbage, 2001.
Steve Marker (guitar), Butch Vig (drums), Shirley Manson (vocals), Duke Erikson (guitars, keyboard), and Steve Avery (bass) of Garbage at Kings Theatre. The 20 Years Paranoid Tour.
Photos by Rick Stachura. October 27, 2018.
(1) Vig, Avery, Manson (L-R).
(2) Vig, Marker, Avery, Manson, Erikson (L-R).
(3) Marker, Vig, Manson, Avery (L-R).
(4) Marker, Vig, Manson, Avery, Erikson (L-R).