Digbeth Arena, Birmingham
I originally only had the one night planned, the 2nd, Garbage, knowing little about Matt Johnson’s The The, beyond Hanky Panky, the Hank Williams covers project, probably somewhat unrepresentative. But @locust had given such a cracking review of her experience a month or 3 back, I felt duty bound to go. And am I glad I did!
Smack on 9.15 and on they/he came, a dapper becapped man of indeterminate and a slew of young turks on supportive roles. Making immediate and ongoing use of back screened video, compelling amalgams of old videos, performance footage and apocalyptic visuals and scenescapes, the sound was crystal clear, vocals fully discernible within the expert mix of guitars and keys. And drums, a terrific bombast to counterpoint the end is nigh atmosphere of the lyrical themes. I didn’t know many of the songs, but I felt I did, so instant were they in their hooks and arrangements, and will be making sure I do know them better in days to come. Given the fact the majority of these songs are up to 30 years old, it seems astonishing how prescient the then themes were, and often, have become prophetic. Presented here, in decaying industrial wasteland, it couldn’t have been a better setting. Highlights were, the names gathered later, The Beat(en) Generation and Armageddon Times Are Here Again, both fairly early in a 90 minute set, but the momentum never really dimmed, the songs becoming possibly mellower as he dipped earlier back into the catalogue. Is his best (known) song Uncertain Smile? Certainly it was a fitting song to end my evening, the first encore as my train was a’calling on me. Fabulous evening.
Roll forward 24 hours, damper inclementude threatening but miraculously holding off, and back again I was. Garbage I am more familiar with, their grungy amalgam of Blondie and Killing Joke always appealing to my ears of 20 years back. This tour, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Version 2.0, was their first time in Brum since that tour, according to the self-admitted frazzled memory of Shirley Manson, the partisan audience equivalently forgetful. She was a simmering earthquake at the front of the stage, in an uber-pramface hairstyle, shaved at the sides, and an unusual technicolour outfit, one part pacamac, one part binliner over fishnet tights, with an alarming line in crotch and tit grasping. The girl you were warned about at school, secretly fancied but were also, if truth be told, more than a little frightened of. But her voice remains strong, down perhaps a timbre but with foghorn intensity when requited. Because this is, of course, the epitome of any Garbage song, quiet bit, loud bit, quiet bit, loud bit, cacophony. Drummer Butch Vig who, arguably, invented this style in his production duties for Nirvana, remains a solid presence at the back, one of the few cool moustaches in modern times, while the hat one and the bald one look much as they did in their prime, thrashing their guitars and keyboards within an inch of their lives. For live shows they have been, and were tonight, augmented by a very stolid bassist, who perhaps had the most important role on stage, such is the importance of a deep, and I mean deep, underbelly of low rumble in their songs. I have to say their debut was always my favourite, little of this appearing, the meat being, as advertised, the bulk of Version 2, chucking in covers of 13 (Big Star) and snippets of Personal Jesus and Tired of Waiting into the coda of other songs. All the “hits” were played, to rapturous reception, so we got (I Think I’m) Paranoid and their Bond one, otherwise forgotten in the mists, but, if all getting a bit similar, overall it was a first class show. I missed the encore, again mindful of my train. I would have heard it, and I would have liked to, if she hadn’t filled most of the time up to the curfew with a rambling and sweary polemic about her place, and that of the band, in the modern world. It was, apparently, Starman, the Bowie one, but I’m sure it’s on Youtube, given the wall to wall phones picking up every last hic and burp throughout. Two good nights in a row, this perhaps slightly the lesser of the two.
Largely similar, Friday perhaps having more grizzled like me, there being a fair proportion of early 40s on Saturday, out on the lash to revisit their youth, babysitters looking anxiously at their watches in the suburbs, no doubt.
A word about the venue. Digbeth ain’t smart, but is trying desperately to hit atrend button. I would say it must be working, as it rises from dodgy to edgy, a bit like a Shoreditch of a decade ago, post-industrial wreckage and ruins housing hipsters and the opportunistic in equal numbers. The “Arena” is what I remember as a carpark, one I was always frightened of leaving a car in, converted with a stage and the use of a roofless warehouse, all crammed alongside and against railway arches to one side. Lots of rubble. Lots of graffiti. But, do you know, it worked and as great. I hope they made some money and can make this Skyline Series, also in Bristol, a success.
It made me think..
I still love live music, me.
(I’m getting mighty sick of our “featured image” police, mind…….)