Garbage - London Astoria, November 16 2001

Well, after the last excursion to London, a decision was made to play it safe. Don't get lost and stressed driving into London, just go to Stanmore instead and get the Tube. A mighty fine idea, perfect in conception and execution. If I hadn't have taken one lousy little wrong turn coming off the motorway, and thus got stuck in rush hour traffic. Still, as it turns out, by the time we get to The Astoria, it's not even 8, there's no queue to freeze in outside, and we can just wander on in. And it looks like unless they were on incredibly early, there was no support band. Cos there's no changeover going on onstage, and we have to wait about an hour or so until 9 before Garbage make an appearance. So result all round really. Never in any doubt (gulp).

It's actually one of the more surprising things for me musically in the last couple of years about how much I've actually gotten into and like Garbage. Maybe it's just that the media seem to want to have this constant field day of regarding them as contrived, not having anything to say, when to these lugholes, they just make some good music. Some of which is rockyish, some of which is poppish. And they make some great ballads, which I like. And I like Shirley Mansons voice. So it may not be a credible thing to admit to liking the band, but you know what, who gives a shit. Cos other people are not me, and it matters most to satisfy yourself first. Well, there are obvious exceptions to that, but we'll not take the conversation in that direction :-)

So, after waiting an hour or so, discussing the possible opening song, what she's going to be wearing (ye Gods, what's happening to me!!!), the lights dim and the band finally hit the fairly spartan Astoria stage. Manson is sporting new cropped blonde hair, white vest and black trousers. Fashion fans. The rest of the band well, no-one cares about right? Wrong. The rest of the band play the ever important music. And the opener is Push It. Which surprises me, but hey. As Manson prowls the stage, with a little bit of kick boxing like manoevres going on, then reaching out over the front row, the band, especially Steve Markham provide the backline. The live bassist (cos he's not really credited on the albums), sticks closely to the back of the stage, while Duke is more content to concentrate his efforts on the guitar in hand. But Markham moves, plays keyboards, and for the likes of Androgeny and When I Grow Up, plays a device which allows him to re-create the scratching elements of the albums. He appears, at least live, to be the musical lynchpin around which things revolve. And of course there's Matt Chamberlain, sitting in for Butch Vig. Not that from a drumming point of view I could tell "he's learnt the songs in 4 days" says Shirley later, "whereas it's taken us 7 years".

What's evident after only the first couple of numbers, is that this is the best that I've seen Garbage live. Ok, admittedly I've only seen them once before, at the monstrosity that is the NEC, but Vicks has seen them more and was of a similar opinion. The set leans quite heavily on the new BeautifulGarbage album, but as with any band, that's fair enough. Got a new album, that's what you expect them to focus on live. And so we get the likes of Androgeny, a song that has grown on me a hell of a lot since I first heard it, the music in the verses particularly effective, Till The Day I Die, Breaking Up The Girl, and eventually, album opener Shut Your Mouth.

These are mixed in with older tracks such as Not My Idea - "this is about my first band, Goodbye Mr Mackenzie. We played here once before, in front of about 6 people" she reminisces. Supervixen is given a slight reworking it sounds like to me, Milk is still as sublime and gorgeous as ever, Special, When I Grow Up. The older songs probably predicatbly get a slightly better response, though to be fair, around us there's people jumping for everything, espcially when Cherry Lips is introduced as the next single.

The only thing that seemed a little disconcerting, was when "London" was thanked for supporting the band, and for the album going in at number 6. It just sounded slightly more impersonal than it needed to be, almost like a stock piece for the arenas - "how was U2? It was fucking fantastic" Manson reckons when someone in the crowd asks. She also takes a love letter from one person, opens it, reads the name of the letter, but then says "I'll read it later" saving the blushes of one lady in the crowd. Butch Vig is given a mention due to his missing because of Hepatitis A - "why do men get it so wrong with illness, they're either pathetic or total martyrs" she reckons as he apparently got off his sick bed when diagnosed to play the Madison Square Gardens gig.

Drive You Home is a highlight. One of the gentler (musically) songs from the new album, it sounds and feels incredibly raw when performed live, Manson looking to the side of the stage rather than face people whilst singing it. It's surprising the Cup Of Coffee is not given an airing, but that's the thing. At the end of the gig, after you've recovered from thinking, "damn, that was one of the best gigs I've seen in a long time, I thoroughly enjoyed that", you start thinking, but they didn't play Trick Is To Keep Breathing, or You Look So Fine or or or ....

They do play Stupid Girl before departing, and then for an encore, Number 1 Crush (I think, it's introduced as a b-side from their first single, and as I've never heard it, I may have forgotten and got the title wrong), and finally end with Only Happy When It Rains. Early Shirley had mentioned that everytime they play London, they wake up and look out and it's raining. But today it wasn't. Yet I still think most people tonight would've gone home happy.