Garbage @ Digbeth Arena 8 September 2018

Garbage @ Digbeth Arena 8 September 2018Garbage @ Digbeth Arena 8 September 2018Garbage @ Digbeth Arena 8 September 2018Garbage @ Digbeth Arena 8 September 2018Garbage @ Digbeth Arena 8 September 2018Garbage @ Digbeth Arena 8 September 2018Garbage @ Digbeth Arena 8 September 2018Garbage @ Digbeth Arena 8 September 2018Garbage @ Digbeth Arena 8 September 2018Garbage @ Digbeth Arena 8 September 2018Garbage @ Digbeth Arena 8 September 2018Garbage @ Digbeth Arena 8 September 2018

The smell of hot dogs fills the air. There’s no discernible source. The concession stands outside the open air Digbeth Arena are selling pizza, burgers and burritos. A New York style hot dog stand is nowhere to be seen. And yet, that smell is the first thing that hits me when I get through the barriers and enter the Arena.

Digbeth Arena is a hidden gem within Birmingham. Located behind the Custard Factory (and more well known O2 Institute), the Arena features amazing graffiti (the Spider-Man mural is particularly stunning), beautiful arches and an elevated train line that cuts behind the stage. All these elements came into play for tonight’s Skyline gig with Garbage headlining the evening.

The Skyline Series were a set of open air concerts taking place in Birmingham and Bristol during August and September 2018. At the start of August, this series must have been stunning – with late sunsets and balmy weather making them the ideal way to spend a late summer evening. At the start of Autumn, with the rain hammering down as I took the tram and headed towards the gig, the experience felt less inviting.

Thankfully, the rain clouds parted during my tram ride and the penultimate Birmingham Skyline gig (The The would close the series the following evening) took place under a cool Autumn sky.

One of the most underappreciated aspects of a gig for me is listening to the sound crew’s playlist in the run up to the bands taking the stage. What do the people who work for Garbage like to listen to as they work? What are they going to make us listen to as we stand around waiting? To start with, they’ve chosen a track from the Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack. The eerie dystopian soundscape of a future LA, whilst an odd choice, actually works quite well for the industrial backdrop of Digbeth.

Tonight’s gig is part of a tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of Garbage’s second album Version 2.0 with tracks coming from that album and it’s recording sessions. The release of that album was, at least to the best recollection of Shirley Manson, the last time Garbage played Birmingham. Their return well anticipated, like getting ready to sit down and eat a well-aged steak or opening bottle of a fine, aged whisky.

When you’re heading out for this kind of event, the main meal is enough. There is no need for an entrée. I am not seeking to wet my whistle before downing a 12 Year Old Sherry Oak scotch as a chaser. A support act for Garbage is not needed and yet it is still going to happen. Support is to come from Honeyblood and Maximo Park.

Honeyblood take to the stage in front of an arena that is, at best, a third full. And, even though I’m seeking to save myself for the main course, I find myself taken with the Scottish duo. Their tracks won’t light you on fire but they’re relatively harmless and fun—if a little dated in style (think early Garbage and similar late 90s British pop rock). Their 30 minute set is over quickly and I’ve enjoyed the nibble.

As I await Maximo Park (and actually satiate my hunger by munching down on a chickpea burrito), the sound crew continue to surprise me with their musical selection. I am not sure who among them is a fan of Bellowhead but I’m assuming I’m one of the few people in the audience who are both a fan of late 90s pop rock bands and 2010s contemporary folk ensembles. The tracks that follow, The Cure and Dire Straits, seem more to the crowds liking.

I look through the crowd to see if I can see any familiar faces. Maybe someone from work or a friend who managed to get last minute tickets and neglected to text me. No such luck. I do spot a man who looks like Patrick Stewart during his Dune days. I have much respect for Gurney.

My late teens were spent defending Garbage’s debut album and their follow up sophomore effort to my friends who preferred Silversun, A and Idlewild so it’s not a surprise they’re not here. I don’t mind these bands but I grew up favouring female vocalists. Skunk Anansie, L7 and Ani DiFranco tend to get more airtime on my playlists.

After about 30 minutes of waiting, the second of tonight’s support acts take to the stage. I am not filled with excitement. Maximo Park look like your office’s finance team on casual Friday. Even the lead singer Paul Smith—in his pink brogues, blue suit, leopard print shirt and fedora—is a reminder that someone always takes the ‘casual’ dress code a little too far.

As they work their way through their set, Paul Smith’s camp performance style does not match the demeanour of his band mates who look as if they’d rather be filling in spreadsheets and sending invoices. When the band starts playing What Equals Love?, a love song that literally feels like it was written by an accountant, my judgement feels confirmed.

I’m able to tolerate their set and their final song (and one good hit) Apply Some Pressure is completed.

As if to rinse my mouth out in preparation for the main course, the sound crew stick on some Prodigy and follow it with the Beastie Boys. Refreshed, I am now ready for Garbage.

As dry ice fills the air, Garbage take to the stage. Butch Vig, Steve Marker, Duke Erikson and Eric Avery have taken a leaf out of the Steve Jobs’ style guide and are dressed head to toe in black. They look sharp. Shirley Manson, as she takes to the stage dressed in silver and red, looks stunning. All eyes are on her. As they should be.

The first three tracks are played straight through with no crowd interaction. I am worried this is going to be the tone of the evening. I should not have been concerned. The aloofness was an act.

After opening with Afterglow and Deadwood (B-Sides to I Think I’m Paranoid), the band move into Temptation Waits. As the song finishes, Shirley Manson speaks to the crowd.

“This is something special. I can feel it in my soul…we’re grateful to be here at this extraordinary venue.”

Shirley begins the first of many honest conversations with the audience, discussing the bands’ career, their beliefs and their views on a number of subjects including the current political state of the world. Trump is an ongoing feature of the evening alongside more positive topics like progressive politics and the continual push to improve and share equal rights with others regardless of their sexual orientation, race, gender, age or whatever other reason people can find to divide us.

I’ve always enjoyed listening to Shirley Manson talk (I highly recommend listening to her interview on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour from May this year) and hearing her talk live is no exception. As a female vocalist in a male dominated industry (as well as band), Shirley’s insights into the patriarchy are worth seeking out and listening to.

Of course, most of the audience came for the music and not the insights of Shirley Manson. Here I was, sadly, less inspired. The set was fine, and an accurate rendition of the songs from 20 years ago. But that, for me, was a problem.

Creative people, as a norm, tend to want to move on quickly and try to seek new things. Revisiting old work, while comfortable and familiar, isn’t really that interesting. Tonight’s gig could easily have taken place 20 years ago. The personal development and growth of the band members over two decades wasn’t reflected in the performance we heard. I’m not sure what I was expecting but certain songs and lyrics should, by their nature, take on a different meaning when sung by a woman in her early 50s than when she was in her early 30s. Sleep Together is the track that comes to mind. In 2018, especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement, there is a chance to reimagine this song’s tone and approach. What that would look like isn’t for me to say. But it could be different.

From that song on, Shirley would occasionally start laughing during the songs because, I assume, she couldn’t keep a straight face when singing these 20 year old lyrics. I don’t blame her. I look back on the things I wrote 20 years ago and they’re laughable. What I can see though is the kernel of something that could be reworked and tempered with experience. If Garbage had taken the time to rework version 2.0 into version 2.20, then tonight’s gig might have been something truly special.

Set List

  1. Afterglow
  2. Deadwood
  3. Temptation Waits
  4. Wicked Ways (featuring a snippet of Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus)
  5. Special (Dedicated To The Audience)
  6. The World Is Not Enough
  7. 13 X Forever
  8. Get Busy With The Fizzy
  9. Hammering In My Head
  10. Medication
  11. Thirteen (Big Star cover)
  12. Can’t Seem To Make You Mine
  13. I Think I’m Paranoid
  14. Sleep Together
  15. Dumb (dedicated To Donald Trump)
  16. Soldier Through This
  17. Lick The Pavement
  18. Push It
  19. When I Grow Up
  20. You Look So Fine
  21. (Encore) The Trick Is To Keep Breathing
  22. (Encore) Starman (David Bowie cover. Dedicated to those who inspire a progressive view of the world).

Reviewer: Gareth B Jenkins

Photographer: Ian Dunn

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One Response to “Garbage @ Digbeth Arena 8 September 2018” Subscribe

  1. Alan Neilson September 14, 2018 at 1:17 pm #

    This is a great review.

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