PORT CHESTER,, NY — Garbage, one of my favorite bands, put on as an unprofessional show as you might ever not want to see tonight at The Capital Theatre.
The audio system at The Cap is fantastic. The band sounded great. But lead singer Shirley Manson, sporting an orange sequin dress, her bright red hair pulled up into pigtails, had what is by far the most endearingly erratic live performances I have seen on stage in 40 years of concert-going and that includes a very drunk Joe Cocker at The Pier back in the Eighties. Manson was a slow motion train wreck that, literally, ended in tears.
Having stood front row for Garbage at Summer Stage in Central Park in 2016 I hung back about 80 feet from the stage in the GA / Orchestra section. I moved up for 2 songs to take photos and shoot video for this article.
There were signs posted inside the theater warning the audience that by attending the show they granted the band rights to the use of their image. Not that anyone seemed to object but this seems like something you want to tell people before they buy their tickets not once they are insider the venue.
There was a camera crew filming “for posterity”, according to Manson. If they ever do make a concert film out of tonight’s performance I will be expecting James Franco to star in the movie about the making of that movie. Disaster Artist II, anyone?
The show itself was part of a tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of Garbage’s breakthrough album Version 2.0. They played almost every song on the “extended” version – 20 songs plus their James Bond theme song “The World Is Not Enough” and one new song “No Horses” before closing with “Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go)” off Beautiful Garbage. The one Version 2.0 song they skipped was, ironically give the damage Manson caused as she spun around the stage, “Tornado”.
At various points, Manson worked in lyrics from The Kinks (Tired of Waiting), Fleetwood Mac (Dreams) and The Pretenders (Talk of the Town) plus covers of “Thirteen” (Big Star) and “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” (The Seeds) from Version 2.0.
Several times Manson walked down off the stage into the audience while singing, at one point making a fuss of giving a black woman in the audience a ribbon from her costume which led to a long speech about how her own white feminism and how she came to realize white feminism had left black women behind and how she was dedicating the rest of her life to “making reparations” (yes, she said that).
Things really went off the rails about halfway through the show when Shirley Manson’s wireless ear monitor began giving her fits. Something similar happened last time I saw her at Central Park Summer Stage in 2016 but this was far more pronounced (she did the second half of the set with a finger stuck in her left ear). A few songs later she missed her cue on the intro to a song and waived the drummer off to stop playing before admitting she had made a mistake. This led to another speech about how we all fuck up and tonight is a clean slate and we can fix all the bad things we’ve ever done, tonight or, she said, tomorrow morning in the event you don’t feel like fixing all the mistakes you ever made in your life during the actual show.
After a few minutes of this the band started – and then finished – the song.
Later in the set she ripped the wiring out of her dress and threw the ear monitor onto the ground in frustration, saying “what’s the point” and cursing about the equipment.
If you like F-Bombs this was the show for you, even better if you like hearing variations on “Fuck You, Port Chester” throughout the evening (Manson seemed obsessed with the words “Port” and “Chester”).
Twice during the show she threw her microphone stand to the ground.
At another point she knocked over what she later said was whiskey (while getting a re-fill).
On “You Look So Fine”, Manson started the number with a guitar slung over her shoulder but when she finally got around to playing it she could not hold her fingers in her ears and play at the same time so she tossed the guitar to the ground.
Later she sat on the riser for the drum kit and managed to land her backside onto the set lighting, knocking it out of whack.
During another number she stood behind the keyboard and slapped at the keys in a back and forth with Duke Erikson as he tried to play. Manson hit the keyboard off-switch killing the sound – and then did it again, and again. During other songs she draped herself over her bandmates as they attempted to play with her hanging on them.
Throughout the performance, stage crew kept running on and off stage to re-set the mic stand, fix the lighting, turn the keyboard back on, pick up the guitar, and otherwise attend to whatever mess Manson made during that particular song.
Far too often Manson stopped singing altogether and simply held the mic up, towards the audience, which might be OK as part of a call-and-response in a song but not on half-a-dozen songs. At some point it is no longer audience engagement and becomes pure laziness. It is particularly problematic when few in the crowd are singing along in the first place. It definitely does not go well on songs where the band is cranked up to 11 and the audience cannot be heard even if they were all singing. Instead of Manson or the crowd singing there was just dead air when she held up the mic.
When she was not singing, Manson took to lying flat out on the stage or crawling around on stage which must have been entertaining for the 40 or so people who could see her. On too many occasions, Manson, seeming to have if not a death-wish then a grope-wish walked off stage, into the crowd, then back and forth on the floor in front of the stage, on multiple occasions, which must have been more great entertainment for those same 40 people in the first row. For the rest of us these moments were left to our imagination.
Things really got weird when Manson began crying uncontrollably. This went on for about 10 minutes. Manson struggled to explain why she was crying and could not stop. She offered that she must be on her period. She said she had never done something like what she was doing.
At one point she made a slashing motion with her finger across her forearm which was disturbing considering her recently disclosed history of self-mutilation in a NY Times Op-Ed in July (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/03/arts/music/shirley-manson-garbage-the-first-time-i-cut-myself.html).
Things got so bad with the crying that bassist Eric Avery walked across the stage to offer Manson a hug which she gratefully accepted. Still crying and rambling on, Drummer Bruce Vig intervened to take charge, stepping off his riser, around his drum kit, offering to give “the Queen” time to “compose herself” and then taking over emcee duties by way of introducing the band.
This led to one very nice moment, and one that might explain why a band that has sold 17 million records was playing in Port Chester in the first place. Guitarist Steve Marker, who was born in Mamaroneck, took the mic to talk of his memories working as an usher at The Capital Theatre, pointing to places he had been assigned back in the day.
The crying continued on and off for quite a while before the band thankfully launched into another number.
All that aside, the band sounded great and when actually playing music were terrific. And there was plenty of good singing by Manson so she could have put on a coherent performance had she wished.
Manson’s performance of “I Think I’m Paranoid” was disappointing as by the end of the song she talked more than sang the lyrics, holding the mic out to the crowd to finish the song. At some point you start to wonder who she thinks people paid to hear sing – her or the 40 people in the front row.
In another speech, Manson noted that music critics often complain about her talking to much during shows, she said unless they bought a ticket she didn’t care what they thought and they could fuck off. Fans loved the defiance but I bought a ticket and she DID talk a lot.
My Facebook post (https://www.facebook.com/624475800/posts/10156523002485801/ contains photos and video clips from the show at the Cap including some of the crying, Steve Harker on his working at The Cap, the keyboard bit, the guitar tossing, and the entire performance of my favorite Garbage song “I Think I’m Paranoid”, done poorly. As I do not expect footage from this show in a Netflix special any time soon (or ever) these clips may be your only chance to witness what happens when a rock and roll tour goes on for about two weeks too long.
Quite frankly, I feel cheated out of the money I paid for tickets. I had considered catching Garbage later this month at King’s in Brooklyn. After tonight, I think its better I save my money for a more professional performer.