Concert Reviews

Shirley Manson's Lively Banter at Garbage Show Was an Embrace of Fellow Weirdos

At some point in the Garbage show, Shirley Manson remembered that Garbage had played in the same building on the Version 2.0 tour and that it had a different name. Someone brought up Mammoth Gardens, the venue's even older name, and Manson tried to recall where the stage was set up. But at that time, nearly eighteen years to the date, on September 17, 1998, Garbage played at the Mammoth Events Center, with Girls Against Boys as the support band, when the stage was set up along the east wall rather than the north. Some of us in attendance were there. Many things have changed with the venue (better sound by far, though Garbage's sound that night in 1998 was exceptionally good, and a nicer layout) and with Denver and Garbage since 1998. What did not change was the striking and powerful live performance that Garbage still maintains nearly two decades on.

Opening act Cigarettes After Sex did its best imitation of the child of Galaxie 500 and Mazzy Star with occasionally interesting guitar work in that chilly, slowcore vein. But a cover of REO Speedwagon's “Keep on Loving You,” though completely reimagined in a musical sense, seemed like an oddly ill-considered choice for a group whose aspirations seem to be the evocation of raw, delicate emotions through controlled tonal nuances. Nevertheless, CAS garnered some cred for at least committing to a sound and not giving in to the temptation to have a big blowout through rocking out or using feedback to take things over the top in the end.

Shirley Manson was fairly chatty the whole show, and it was all the better for it. Unlike some frontpeople, Manson doesn't struggle with being witty and engagingly warm, even though it's clear that she is probably talking completely off the cuff. At fifty, Manson has nothing to prove; she has already established herself as one of the great lead singers in rock of the past 21 years. Seeing someone so completely comfortable with her flaws and embracing you for yours, too, in her words and lyrics was both inviting and inspirational. Completely animated the entire show except for a brief period toward the end of the show when she sang sitting down for a few minutes, Manson made no complaints about the altitude, because she knows we live with it all the time — and these days, so does guitarist Steve Marker. Manson was feisty in a way that was commanding and accessible.
She seemed to enjoy how noisy and pleasantly rowdy the crowd appeared to be. The show was nowhere near sold out, but the ruckus raised seemed somehow bigger than that of many shows at capacity. Garbage played most of the hits from its long career in its typically masterful fashion and with great energy. It is noteworthy that guitarist Duke Erikson is 65, guitarist Steve Marker is 57, and drummer Butch Vig is 61. That puts some perspective on where this band is coming from, in that all of them were part of the alternative-rock era while largely being older than most of the musicians who opened those doors for them, as Vig helped Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana realize the musical visions that ushered in the musical era they embodied. Garbage got to benefit from that experience, but none of that would matter if the music wasn't any good or if it seemed too premeditated. Garbage could be phoning it in at this point at their respective ages, but at this show, they were really working for it and that effort elevated the mood of the room.

During a break in the set, Manson noticed Marker picking up frays from her outfit of the moment off the stage while Vig walked behind her to pick up a plectrum (Manson noted that in the U.S., we call it a pick, but in her home country of Scotland, it is called a plectrum) like neurotics and acknowledged that she is known for being a bit difficult and for having a temper but that her bandmates are as weird as she is. And that moment became a kind of symbol for the rest of the show, during which Manson pointed out that those things that seem odd and imperfect about it is what is most endearing. Even the anecdote about explaining the sticker on Manson's wardrobe case to Marker's daughter as a woman masturbating was oddly endearing. At the end, Manson apologized for seeming cheesy in showing appreciation to the people who showed up, noting that sometimes the band's friends don't get the music or what the band is about, but that their fans still do, so many years later. Playing “Beloved Freak” at the end of the encore seemed the perfect way to close the evening.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.