If the 1990s are truly dead, it was hard to tell at Garbage
's sold-out show at NYC SummerStage in Central Park. I arrived at the venue about two hours before the band's opener, Kristin Kontrol, worried I was going to look like the overly-eager amateur who somehow how landed a press pass. However, the GA line was already taking over the sidewalk, and the Press/VIP line had people who had been there since 2 pm. I still stuck out, but not for the reasons I was expecting.
With NYC SummerStage being a long-running staple in Central Park, the organizers know how to use the venue space to the fullest by now. You had the standing in front of the stage, bleachers lining the back, the standard organic food booths you see at music festivals, and the walls of pot-o-potties on the sides. Even with a sold out show, there was still plenty of room to walk around and hang out outside of the pit with the stage still visible. It was a solid outdoor venue, although there wasn't much coverage in the event the sky opened up, which was a pretty constant possibility throughout the night. Luckily, the rain stayed away, and at the very least, the overcast kept things cool the whole time. The vast majority of people were covered head to toe in Garbage gear, from t-shirts to bracelets to even a few tattoos, so it was safe to assume that the show's opener, Kristin Kontrol, would be new to a lot of people. I actually knew Kristin as "Dee Dee" from her other band, Dum Dum Girls, and I've also enjoyed her debut album as Kristin Kontrol, X-Communicate
. Plus, confession time, I've had a crush on her since I was like 15, but that's neither here nor there.
The opener began right on schedule, and Kristin walked onstage in an angelic all-white outfit that stood out from the rest of the band, who were in all black. She started by introducing herself and mentioned how Garbage was the first show she ever went to, which earned her the good graces of the Garbage fan base. She really won people over once the music started, playing a solid set of quick, catchy, synth-pop that sounded straight out of a cassette mixtape from the 1980s. The set featured highlights from X-Communicate,
like the New Order-esque title track, the fuzz guitar-led "White Street," the beautifully intense slow-burn "Smoke Rings," and the lively head-banger "Face 2 Face." All the songs the band played offered plenty of ear worms and catchy melodies to linger in your head, and with backup singers and a horn section to accompany the standard guitar-drums-bass setup, they managed to sound almost exactly like the record. The band was pretty chill and introverted, but that just gave Kristin more space to do her thing onstage, as she was a natural and effortlessly charismatic front woman as well as a fantastic singer. With each song, Kristin showed confidence and grace onstage that usually takes years to master, and even featured some subtle choreography and hand movements to complement the songs. Within the first minute of her set, she captured the audience's attention and didn't let go until the final chord, which is exactly what a good opener should do. I even overheard a guy on the phone after Kristin's set, raving to his friend about this "amazing discovery" like he was Chuck Berry's cousin from Back to the Future.
Kristin Kontrol definitely put the audience in a good mood, so now it was time for Garbage to do their thing.
The band came out just as it was getting dark, and as expected, the audience instantly went berzerk. Personally, whenever I think of the Madison, Wisconsin-born band, I think of one simple word: cool. Garbage is just so effortlessly cool, without a hint of irony or arrogance whatsoever. For 25 years, the band has been doing their thing without a single shit given to the trolls who say rock died in the 90s. This was my first time seeing Garbage in concert, and they were just as frickin cool as I've always imagined. The 19-song main set plus a three-song encore was an absolute rush, making a near two-hour show feel like a few minutes. First off, Shirley Manson... I mean, Jesus, what more is there to say? You can believe the hype on this one, because she really is one of the greatest living front women in rock today. Even as she's been in music for over three decades, Manson can still belt it out and pack plenty of punch in every sneer. Within the first song, the opener from the band's debut album, "Supervixen," Manson had the entire venue's attention, from the die-hards up front to the people sitting in back. "And I'll feed your obsession/the falling star that you cannot live without," Manson growled, which was incredibly fitting considering she had the entire crowd eating out of her hands. The band, like most people who have played together for 10+ years, were super tight and had great chemistry, with Manson goading on her fellow band mates as much as she was their fans. Both Duke Erikson and Steve Marker were jumping between guitar and keys to the point where it looked easy, and bassist Eric Avery and drummer Eric Gardner (filling in for regular drummer Butch Vig due to illness) anchored the rhythm section with precision and aptitude.
Some highlights included "I Think I'm Paranoid," a classic grungy track that had the entire crowd swinging their hair and shouting along. "Special" was a particularly big crowd pleaser, with people on both sides of me squealing out of joy and singing along as soon as the song started. "Why Do You Love Me" was a fast-paced scorcher that pretty much had everyone's hands/entire bodies in the air. The band tried out a dramatic, synth string-led intro to "I'm Only Happy When It Rains," and even threw a nod to Beyonce in "Vow," with Mason adding the lyrics "You better call Becky with the good hair" in the intro and singing the chorus to "Don't Hurt Yourself" at the end. While the set focused a lot on their big hits and past albums, the band did play a couple tracks off their most recent album, Strange Little Birds,
like the emotionally intense "Blackout" and the albums infectious lead single, "Empty." The band also took plenty of time to throw in dedications before their songs, because as Manson said, "When you exist for 23 years as a band, you have a lot of people to be thankful for." Some particularly memorable dedications include "Sex Is Not the Enemy" going out to the LGBTQ community, who Manson has long supported through charity work, and "Bleed Like Me" for Manson's goddaughter, Ruby, from her "Auntie Shirley." It was incredibly touching to see how thankful the band was to be up there, and it's always nice to a see band that still has such humility after reaching such massive success. Even after the band wrapped up the encore with "Number 1 Crush," people were still clamoring for more in hope that the amazing night wasnt over yet. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, but Im sure the audience will remember their experience for a long time. Kristin Kontrol gained some new fans and Garbage came, saw, and kicked ass at Central Park, so overall, it was a pretty awesome night for everyone.