The plan was to leave at 7 for the 8:00 show at the Electric Factory
Philadelphia, 45 miles from our house near Princeton. My husband
Robijn and I were taking our son Tim (15) and his friend Adam and our
daughter Anneliese (13, almost 14) and her friend Kelly. It was Adam
and Kelly's first rock concert, and neither one had ever heard of Garbage.
Kelly thought she was going to see No Doubt until she was actually in
Our kids have grown up with our prodigious consumption of music and we've
taken them to lots of shows. Before this they'd seen R.E.M, Beck, the Foo Fighters,
Pearl Jam, Sonic Youth, Oasis, Moby, Spacehog, Sugar Ray, the Offspring,
Third Eye Blind, Tonic and more. In heavy rotation at our house these days are
Radiohead, Beck, the eels, Tori Amos, Lucinda Williams, PJ Harvey, Coldplay,
Travis, the Strokes, the White Stripes, and the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Before we left, I demonstrated a valuable life skill to the girls: how
to reduce the
usually enormous volume of material in a purse to almost nothing for easy concert-going.
I dumped the contents of my big black bag onto the kitchen table and removed only the
most essential items: driver's license, debit/credit card, cash, tickets, car and house keys
removed from their bulky chain, and of course, lip gloss. We established that half a tank
of gas was plenty to get us to Philly and back, decided whether the boys or the girls
would be squeezed into the way back of our wagon for the ride down, and finally hit
the road at 7:15. With Robijn behind the wheel, it was a traffic-free 70-mile-an-hour
cruise down I-95 to the Callow Hill Street exit.
The Electric Factory doesn't look like much from the outside but it's
a great place to
see a show. It's somehow both cavernous and cozy. A while ago Robijn and I saw
Hole there, and just last year we saw Travis, with the very good Alabama band
Remy Zero opening. The capacity is 2,500 but the place feels much smaller, probably
because it's on two levels. Only 21 and over are allowed upstairs; there is also a separate
section downstairs that's 21 and over. You can't take drinks beyond these two locations
and enforcement is strict. The club has no official seating but there's some couches in the
back of the main room, and a few barstools upstairs.
For easy exiting, we parked on one of the side streets a couple blocks
away. Since 'Burbites
like ourselves are loath to leave their vehicles on dark city streets littered with broken glass,
each block is the territory of an enterprising young man who will "watch" your car for you.
For this they don't charge a fee but encourage a tip. We tipped the guy watching our block
$10 and knew nothing would happen to our car. It's the same price as the official parking
and we were out of there in no time when it was all over.
The kids were a little taken aback by the obvious decrepitude of the
neighborhood as we
made our way back to the club. I diverted attention from the boarded-up warehouses and
factories by pointing out how Benjamin Franklin's face adorns the club's logo, meaning our
outing was educational! (Hey, I think a Garbage concert is more educational than a visit to
Hershey Park or Disneyworld, which are actual school trips for our kids.) At the door we
split into boys and girls to be frisked and have our bags inspected. Having left all tweezers
and other potential weapons of mass destruction at home, we were allowed entry.
Once inside we made a plan to meet the kids at the main entrance after
the show and watched
them disappear into the young downstairs crowd. We grownups then whipped out our IDs to
prove we turned legal in the 70s and obtain the hand stamps that would get us upstairs. As usual
the bouncer was apologetic about the hassle. It's embarrassing to have to ask for ID from people
who are obviously a couple decades out of college. I had my momentary pang of something--shame?
--for being as old as I am and still going to rock concerts…but then I thought hell, the guys in this
band are all in their mid-40s, same as Robijn and me, and even the hot young singer is 36 already.
If they're not too old, I guess we're not too old.
We found a good spot upstairs (there's basically no bad spots at the
Electric Factory, the sightlines
are friendly from almost everywhere) and while Robijn saved our places, I ventured over to the
well-stocked main bar to get our drinks (a frozen margarita for me, a Yuengling, the Pennsylvania
microbrew that sounds Chinese, for him). Our timing was perfect; the warm-up act was just coming
onstage and we wanted to see them. Apparently lots of other people wanted to see them too; the
place was already filled up, whereas usually people drift in throughout the warm-up set.
The opening act was a new band called Abandoned Pools, fronted by the
cute and talented Tommy
Walter. Tommy is a former member of the eels who played on only their first album, the magnificent
Beautiful Freak, before bumping heads with E and striking out on his own. The Pools performed a
super 45-minute set of tunes from their excellent debut album, Humanistic, and were warmly received
for an essentially unknown act. Hats off to Garbage for giving a band like this a chance to be seen and
heard. It wasn't so long ago that R.E.M. plucked art-rockers Radiohead out of UK-cultdom and gave
them the chance to open one of their tours, and the rest is history. Tim and Adam especially loved
Abandoned Pools. Tim called it "just my kind of music."
There followed the obligatory half-hour between-band transition during
which there's nothing to do but
watch the roadies, get another drink (the second and last for me, I was driving home), and talk yourself
out of buying a $35 T-shirt. Finally the houselights dimmed and the crowd roared as the guys in the
band--multi-instrumentalists Duke Erikson and Steve Marker, tour bass player Daniel Schulman, and
of course Butch Vig, kick-ass drummer and producer extraordinaire--walked in shadow to take their
places. Butch sat down behind Plexiglas walls that made his drum kit look like a small hockey rink.
A much more enormous roar erupted as Ms. Manson herself was seen emerging from the wings and
heading for the mike stand. Lights up and there she was in all her splendid glory, sporting her close-cropped,
newly white hair and dressed in black clamdiggers, a punky black mesh asymmetrical shirt, and black
combat boots. I kinda miss the Shirley of red hair and miniskirts, but far be it from me to tell her how to look.
The band opened with the one-two punch they've been using to start each
of the shows on their North
American tour, Push It and Temptation Waits, both from 1998's Version 2.0. They had the crowd
in the palm of their hands from the very first note. Everybody started pogo'ing (that's bopping up and
down) and singing along: "This is the noise that keeps me awake/ My head explodes and my body
aches!" Shirley was in hyperkinetic motion all night long, employing moves that looked like yoga,
kick-boxing, and pacing a prison cell.
After Temptation Waits, Shirley first addressed the crowd, which delighted
in hearing her Scottish
accent. She was in a fine mood, happy to be back in Philadelphia, where music fans are
knowledgeable and enthusiastic and as Shirley noted, "I don't know what it is about you guys but we
always have a good time here." She remembered that the last time they'd played the Electric Factory,
Alanis Morissette had preceded them. This time, they were following No Doubt. "All chicks for once!"
Shirley cracked herself up for the first and not the last time, erupting
in a memorably hearty laugh as the
band kicked into the throbbing first single off their new beautifulgarbage album, Androgyny, with its
chorus about "boys in the girls' room" and "girls in the men's room." At this point I realized this was the
first concert my kids had seen with a girl-fronted band. I don’t think I saw a girl-fronted band until I
saw the Pretenders, featuring Shirley's role model Chrissie Hynde, when I was already in college. Now
there are lots of them, it's quite normal. That's progress!
The band went back to Version 2.0 for a blisteringly sexy I think I'm
Paranoid ("You can look, but
you can't touch/I don't think I like you much") and a scathing Special ("Do you have an opinion/A
mind of your own?") Shirley was just the perfect rock star: everybody there wanted to be her or at
least to be with her. While her lyrics are often highly aggressive, she really isn't scary at all in person,
something I think the guys in the audience were especially happy to see. Anyway she held forth the
entire evening as a star and a delightful one at that. At one point Shirley's microphone started sputtering
during a story and she teased the sound tech who gave her another one "You always keep the best one
for yourself!" By the way this was the first time I've ever seen a rock band put its sound techs beside
the players on the actual stage, but that's how important production is to this band. The guys were
content to let their superior musicianship and their dynamic frontwoman do the talking; they didn't
say a word all night.
After slowing down for the pretty Drive You Home and then playing another
midtempo number off
the new album, Breaking Up the Girl, songs the audience received warmly, Shirley chuckled and
wondered aloud "where you folks are hearing these songs, 'cause they're certainly not being played on
the radio." Of course she's right. The fact that a brilliant band like Garbage cannot get their songs
played on the radio in the year 2002 in America is a total joke in my opinion. They still manage to sell
millions of records and fill concert halls all over the world but there is no place for them on corporate
radio anymore. And of course they're not the only ones. Radiohead, the other band most successful at
combining rock and techno as Garbage does, saw their last two albums debut at number one and two
in the U.S. Yet you won't hear them on the radio, either. It's completely ridiculous. It's as if it were
1971 and Led Zeppelin and the Who weren't getting played on the radio and you had to download
MP3s of their latest album cuts to get a listen.
Not My Idea was a fun singalong, everyone headbanging to the lyric "This
is not my idea of a good
time" when it was actually everybody's idea of a good time to sing along with Shirley. Shirley nervously
played a little guitar on the ballad So Like a Rose, which she dedicated to Philly native Lisa Lopes,
who had died the day before. "I love TLC," she said, "and those girls, they are tough chicks and life
hasn't given them many breaks." They pumped it up again right away with two more songs off the new
album, the forthcoming single Shut Your Mouth and Parade. Everybody seemed to know these
catchy songs already. A fan down front pleaded for Fix me Now, but Shirley said she "wasn't in the
mood for it, but we'll play Stupid Girl in recompense.” They finished the main set with two more songs
off the new album and the oldie but goodie Vow.
For the encore the band reached back for three favorites from their
eponymous 1996 debut:
Supervixen, Milk, and finally their signature hit, Only Happy when it Rains. The night ended with a
gigantic singalong of the song's "Pour your misery down on me" chorus by a most unmiserable crowd.
A triumphant Shirley led her bandmates off the stage, past the backlit tubular draperies she had earlier
called "the condoms." Butch was the last to leave; before he disappeared he acknowledged the
crowd's massive cheering by spreading his arms wide and taking a deep bow. The houselights came up
to the strains of "The Sound of Music" (really).
After the show Adam and Kelly confirmed they were now Garbage fans.
The girls had sprung for
cute baby doll T-shirts. Tim declared "It's obvious Shirley was born to be a rock star," and Liese
pronounced it "the funnest and best concert I've ever seen."
Garbage setlist, Electric Factory, Philadelphia, April 26, 2002:
I Think I'm Paranoid
Drive You Home
Breaking Up The Girl
Not My Idea
When I Grow Up
Hammering In My Head
So Like A Rose
Shut Your Mouth
Girl Don't Come
Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)
Only Happy When It Rains
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