The word “garbage” conjures a smattering of sights and sounds, none of them particularly flattering. Words we often associate with garbage include waste, sludge, stench, disgust, vile, and decay. ‘Anniversary tours, especially in celebration of particular albums, are often associated with similar terms. How many times have we heard a band engage on some anniversary tour only for it to be met with disgust by fans, reviled by critics, and claims that the band, their music (or both) have aged poorly and now stink? Garbage, the industrial rock juggernauts in midst of a tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of their eponymous, debut album, deftly dodged past the pitfalls of both namesake and nostalgia at their show at the 9:30 Club this past Friday night.
It is uncommon for an anniversary to be particularly potent, or relevant, as these tours have the propensity to devolve into waxing nostalgia by both an artist and their fans for that by-gone, mythicized golden era. Garbage’s two hour—and second sold out—stint at Nightclub 9:30 was not just potent, showing a band that is still a well-oiled machine, but surprisingly relevant as well. As pioneers of electronic rock and incorporating sounds from the electronic underground into the mainstream music discourse, Garbage foreshadowed the sounds of today twenty years ago. As their introductory video reminded the all ages crowd, juxtaposing early band history with media showcasing everything from Princess Diana to the first DVDs, Garbage began producing music at the true outset of the digital age of music. It also helped that for this tour, the band resolved to only play songs from the debut, or their B-sides, therefore enclosing the set in a timeframe of 1995-1996. Encountering the band at this stage in the development of the sonic landscapes of popular music was like walking through a forest of saplings, only to find a matured oak that generated the environment.
What separates Garbage’s electro-industrial rock mish-mash from contemporaries like Nine Inch Nails or Ministry is that there is an unabashed, plucky pop edge under the synthesized specters of sound. Certainly that darkness is there as numbers like “Vow” were closer Trent Reznor’s synthesized-electro symphonies—granted on his least psychotic days—but also shared a melodiousness and dynamic range closer to Eurodance performers like Cascada. Others like “Fix Me Now” demonstrated pristine, pop melodies over driving, synthesized lines that relate closer to the pumping electro-pop of chart-toppers like Rita Ora and the Weeknd or even the rave-ready mixes of DJs like Steve Aoki than the underground minimalism of the time. Indeed Garbage’s two hour tour through time at times felt closer to a modern Eurorave or discotheque dance night than “alternative rock concert.” But Garbage is a rock band. So when they turn the “rock” faucet on, as they did most effectively in “Only Happy When It Rains,” the rock n roll does not just flow; it pours.
What also poured out from the venue’s speakers was the thundering, electric force of a group in the midst of their platinum anniversary. At this stage of musicianship, Garbage has the uncommon ability to sound both tight and expansive. They have all the flavor and depth of 80-20 angus with the calories of 90-10. The beef here is combined from the steady rhythms of Steve Marker (guitar and synth), punishing push of bassist Eric Avery, and the striking incorporation of inorganic, digital percussion to a traditional drum kit by Butch Vig. Duke Erikson’s shrieking guitar and Shirley Manson’s cross between Marilyn Manson, Madonna, and Stevie Nicks are the Worchester sauce and Dijon mustard that spice the beef into a satisfying burger.
Then again maybe comparing Garbage to a burger is not the best metaphor for this group. I’m sure they would prefer something like scotch. The initial bite that draws you in is still there but the surrounding textures only continue to develop and refine with age. To learn more about the band visit www.garbage.com