Concert Reviews

Garbage Took Dallas Back to 1995 Last Night at South Side Ballroom

With Torres
South Side Ballroom, Dallas
Thursday, October 15, 2015

Nostalgia is a funny thing. Often, when you look back at the things you enjoyed as a kid with the perspective of an adult, you notice they just aren’t the same. Like the radioactive orange powdered cheese that coated your youth, you grow up, your tastes change and those bands you liked 20 years ago just don’t hold the same appeal. When you’re talking about Garbage, though, that rule doesn’t hold true. Some things are timeless, Shirley Manson chief among them.

The band rolled through Dallas last night as part of their 20 Years Queer tour, named after one of the biggest hits from Garbage, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Unlike the usual anniversary tour, where the audience is forced to listen to a bunch of new material they’ve never heard in between favorites, Garbage stuck to the good stuff. Only material from Garbage was on the setlist last night, and if you listened to anything the band put out after, you know that was an excellent choice.

20 years ago, the distinctive voice of Garbage’s spunky Scottish frontwoman began to dominate the airwaves. Her command of the stage is really impressive. You're there to see Garbage, but it's really The Shirley Manson Show. Their eponymous debut record, with its cover of fluffy pink feathers and raw, undiluted take on poppy alt-rock with hints of punk, was a game-changer in terms of post-grunge sound. Still, it is a moment in time, and Garbage ferociously transported everyone in the audience back to their awkward teenage years. 

In fact, if you hadn’t seen the sea of smartphones in the audience, you might not have even noticed it's 2015. Manson has not aged since 1995, and she played the South Side Ballroom stage with a level of energy most of us could only hope to have after that many years on the road. Throughout the show, she ran from one part of the stage to another, interacting with fans and ensuring they caught more than a glimpse of their grungy goddess.

Perhaps most notable is the fact that Manson’s angst — the characteristic that set her apart in a sea of unremarkable mainstream pop music — has not dulled. It was almost as if Manson had bottled up all the anger and rage of the past 20 years and could no longer contain it. Her anxious energy extended to her gestures as she occasionally air-drummed the beat with her microphone and tugged frantically at the hem of her pink sleeveless shift dress in some of the more emotive moments. 
The tunes are alt-rock, but Manson’s attitude and aesthetic are decidedly punk. She doesn’t, however, shy away from showing off a softer side. Between songs, Manson interacted with the audience and told stories. Before launching into “Driving Lesson,” she talked about her experience as a carless and isolated foreigner living in Madison, Wisconsin. When she came back for the encore, holding a glass of Scotch, she reminisced about her attempts to drink less on this tour and cheers-ed with the crowd.

As the rapt audience danced and sang along to “Stupid Girl” and “Milk,” it was abundantly clear that everyone was getting exactly what they’d come for. When Manson and her band departed before the encore, It felt like the set had ended much too soon. You could almost see people counting back in their heads, trying to make sure the band had played each and every song from the album, hoping they weren’t finished just yet.

By the end of the night, it was impossible to ignore the very clear influence Manson has had on the current crop of grungy girl rockers who have made waves in indie music over the past few years. The show’s opener, Torres, probably wouldn’t exist or make music in the way she does today without women like Manson demonstrating in the 1990s that weird, badass women can sell pop records. Neither, for that matter, would Courtney Barnett, or even artists like Lana Del Ray and Lorde. For that, we should all be grateful. 
When Garbage returned for the encore, they played a few B-sides from the U.K. release of their debut album, all of which were re-released this year for the 20th anniversary. The best among them, a cover of Vic Chesnutt’s “Kick My Ass,” apparently had its origins in Dallas. Manson told the crowd she’d heard the song while on tour in Dallas and decided she had to cover it. The respect that Manson has for Chesnutt, a writer who certainly doesn’t get his due, translated into an endlessly flattering reimagining of the original.

After playing “Push It,” which wasn’t actually on Garbage, Manson and her band bid Dallas good night. Once the lights came up, we were back in 2015 again, bleary eyed and tapping our smartphones to summon a car. But for those few hours, the time warp back to 1995 — or whenever you first heard the album — was visceral. Garbage may never have been able to top the success of those 20-odd songs on their first album, but last night’s show was proof that they really didn’t have to. 
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Amy McCarthy