Garbage: 20 Years Queer in Oakland (October 7, 2015)

“Well, look what the cat dragged in…”

That’s how Shirley Manson greeted a crowd of around 60 people for the VIP soundcheck at Oakland’s Fox Theater. My wife and I were among that crowd and while we’ve seen Garbage many times, this was a bit different than normal.

Garbage are on tour in support of the 20th anniversary of their debut album. I didn’t get the opportunity to see them on their first tour. I saw them on the tour in support of their second album and beyond but those early days with early songs that never returned to the setlist were a place I never had the chance to visit.

They probably never saw themselves going back to those early days either, but this tour, 20 Years Queer, is doing just that.

A photo posted by @exej on

Soundcheck started with songs not quite that old. The band played two songs not from the first album sessions or b-sides from the first album during their first show in San Diego. They had decided to change those two songs up and broke into I Think I’m Paranoid and despite some mild technical difficulties that are always present in a soundcheck, they got through the song without any major issues. When I Grow Up, complete with Shirley miscues and missing vocals, wasn’t quite as solid of a performance. But man, when they started Subhuman next, it was insane.

Subhuman was the first b-side I had heard from Garbage back in the mid-90s. My excitement was shared by my wife who was now flailing around a bit with happiness.

It was awesome.

After Subhuman, Shirley, Butch, Steve and Duke came to the front of the stage and did a brief Q&A session answering questions about what their favorite moments on tour over the past two decades have been, their favorite Garbage songs, their thoughts on social media and their creative process. It was a pretty good discussion and I felt the extra money we paid for the VIP experience was well worth it.

We had a great meal, with a bit too much salt for me, at Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe before going in for the show proper. I had a Frito pie and a buffalo chicken salad. It tasted great going in but was a bit too much sodium with not enough water. Thankfully when I felt not right in my seat at the show, I got some water and made sure to take care of myself.

Torres opened up the night and she rocked. I was really happy with Garbage’s choice of opener, a far cry from the days of Q Burns Abstract Message during Version 2.0 or whoever that shitty DJ in Las Vegas was last tour. Torres will definitely be someone to keep an eye on in the future.

A bit after the Torres set wrapped up, a white curtain dropped to an eruption from the audience. A bit after that, a Windows 10 logo showed up on the screen for a split second. A bit after that, the lights went down and a video highlighting Garbage 20 years ago played over b-side Alien Sex Fiend.

The video ended and the band launched into Subhuman. With the curtain in place, the harsh lights from soundcheck weren’t so harsh and cast the band members shadows on the curtain in front of them.

Garbage was back on stage and reliving their past in front of us. The curtain fell. They launched into Supervixen and went through the first half of of the debut album without interruption. What I liked best about it was that they were playing the songs with the additional bits and reworkings that have changed in the live sets for the past two decades. The songs had grown up with us and rather than pander to nostalgia, Garbage weren’t afraid to share those grown up versions of the songs that started their careers.

Between Side A and Side B of the album, Shirley had a bit of time to chat, sharing brief stories before launching into a bunch of debut era b-sides and then moving on to the other half of the album. The show was laid out in a great way. I loved the journey through the past that the band took us down. They left the stage and returned to play an encore that started with a story about Vic Chesnutt and one of Shirley’s first interactions with Butch, Steve and Duke. They played Kick My Ass and then Driving Lesson before moving forward in time a bit to I Think I’m Paranoid and When I Grow Up.

They left the stage and came back having forgotten the last song on their setlist, #1 Crush.

We were fortunate to share the show with friends and acquaintances who are music lovers the same as we are. It was as good to see some of them as it was to see Garbage.

While the show may not have been the raucous rock show of 15 or 20 years ago, it was a really good show that took us back to when we were younger but still reminding us we are still here and in the present. I thought the arrangement of the set and the energy the band exhumed was great. They were enthusiastic in their celebration of the past and not mourning the death of their careers. In fact, Garbage is so very much alive that Butch announced late in the show when Shirley surrendered the mic to each of the boys, including for a brief moment never talkative Eric Avery, that the new Garbage record should be out next Spring and they hope to resume work on it in January.

Our Garbage journey hasn’t ended. We spent a ton on merch too, getting at least one of everything on offer. It was important to get that out of the way as we don’t have any luggage space when we visit Chicago and Madison next weekend to celebrate 20 years ago twice more.


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