Written by Eric Sperrazza
While on the Jersey side of the mighty Delaware River, I decided to venture up the famed Atlantic City Expressway to the BB&T Pavilion on the Camden Waterfront. There, Shirley Manson and Garbage would be performing on Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” 25th Anniversary Tour. The double-billed show should have technically kicked off on the road in June of last year but the COVID-19 pandemic put the traveling show on ice.
In June of this year, I had a chance to review Garbage‘s newest album, “No Gods No Masters.” I had promised myself that if I came across the opportunity to see them perform after listening to such a triumphant return, I would absolutely do so. Coincidentally, I would come to find out, shortly thereafter, that the halted 2020 tour was hitting the road, once more! I found myself driving to the largest amphitheater I visited since live acts returned just to find out if Garbage still had that it-factor in front of a massive crowd.
As I parked far away from the arena, I couldn’t help but feel like I was magically transported back to 1995. The streets before me were teeming with concert-goers showcasing flannels tied around their waists, Doc Martens boots, Manic Panic-riddled hairstyles, and a sea of band shirts advertising a venerable “Who’s Who” of the hottest acts on MTV in the ‘90s. (Remember when MTV played music?!) I was in good company because I, myself, couldn’t resist the urge to lace up my Vans and throw on a Smashing Pumpkins tee, either! I joined the herds of fans, proudly sporting their Sam Goody Customer cosplay, and we made our way to the gates.
Inside and in the orchestra pit, the lights dimmed and the backdrop lit up with the cover of the “No Gods No Masters” LP. Through the darkness and the fog, you could make out vague silhouettes until one glorious moment when the lights exploded and the band ripped into “Vow.” In full view, live and in living color, were the original members of Garbage: Shirley Manson, Steve Marker, Duke Erikson, and Butch Vig. Shirley, looking like she just stepped of Trash & Vaudeville in Greenwich Village, with her military boots and her iconic red hair!
The band expertly weaved a setlist that encompassed new songs like “Wolves” and “No Gods No Masters” with seminal hits like “Stupid Girl,” “Push It,” and (my personal favorite), “#1 Crush.”
Midway through their set, we had the chance to sing “Happy Birthday” to Shirley, while she was offered a Scottish Whiskey Toast. The band then crafted a mix with “Wicked Ways”and a cover of “Personal Jesus,” which I found ironic, as I always had described them with a sound merging between dark grunge and Depeche Mode. The finale was the iconic hit, “Only Happy When It Rains.”
Sure, the songs make for a good show, but there was something else happening that made this performance immensely entertaining… gratitude. Plenty of artists have to play it ‘cool’ when their schtick is that they are cool and tough. But Shirley, at her very core, resonates an aura that is so naturally cool and confident, that when she interacted with the audience about how truly appreciative she was to be on stage, in front of a crowd, again, it was so much more impactful. Shirley, along with the rest of the band, genuinely looked, sounded, and felt like they were happy to be playing for all of us and grateful to be doing what they all love.
It’s moving to hear, straight from the musicians, how hard the pandemic lockdown has been for them, professionally, emotionally, and mentally. As a member of that audience, I can say that, behind the veil of macabre backdrops and sinister bass licks was a band, just as happy and energized to be performing and engaging with an audience as a band getting to perform for the first time in their careers.
I was left to enjoy the rest of my night feeling thoroughly entertained, transported to a simpler time in my life when the worries of the world were not in my proverbial View Finder and with an immensely deeper respect for Garbage than I ever had prior.
If the pandemic taught us anything, as music lovers, I believe it taught us a fear of loss. Shirley Manson and Garbage got what they loved back with the return to touring and, with great parity, gave us back something robbed of us, over the last year.
Grateful, I guess, we ALL are.
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