So I took you all the way from the NY State Thruway rest stops in 1969 through the sumptuous grounds of modern-day Bethel Woods in about 50,000 words or more (God, I was in a gabby mood the other night), but you want to hear about the actual show, eh? Well why not!
The sun was starting to go down as Deap Vally took the stage. I went to this concert knowing absolutely nothing about this band -- I didn't even know they were playing until the weekend of the show. Deap Vally is the LA-based duo of Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards. They're two attractive young women who play a blues-tinged brand of rock. Troy sings and plays electric guitar, while Edwards sings (less often) and plays drums. Their look catches your attention -- both were wearing brightly colored one-piece tights, Troy in sparkling red and Edwards in a cooler blue/green. They played this show barefoot, and from the photos I've seen, that's their usual thing. I don't have a whole lot more to say about them. They had the task of playing to a bunch of people who weren't familiar with their music, as the venue filled up with people who were there to see Garbage and Blondie. I was going to say "the unenviable task", but when I thought about it, that's actually bullshit. I guarantee that there are a lot of young bands who envy them that they get to play in front of several thousand potential new fans a night while opening for two bands who each have their own large following. They weren't really my cup of tea -- they were a little too bluesy for my taste -- but they played energetically, and seemed likable enough, and I'm sure they've made themselves a decent number of new fans during this tour.
They got me thinking a little about the current wave of two-member bands, though. I noticed that because they have no bass player, in order to get a full sound (which they did successfully), Troy has to spend most of her time on the two bass strings of her guitar. Once in awhile, she sneaks her hand up for some high-end notes to fill in the sound, but mostly, she's playing loud and low. So that's about it -- those are my great thoughts about Deap Vally. One thing I did appreciate, though, which either Shirley Manson or Deborah Harry (or maybe both) pointed out -- it was kind of neat to see three full generations of rocker women sharing the one stage on the same night. Blondie began in the late '70s, Garbage in the mid-'90s, and Deap Vally in the current decade. So they're neatly spaced apart in 20-year intervals.
I wasn't 100% sure who would play next. They're kind of listing Garbage and Blondie as co-headliners of the tour. But from what I'm hearing on Sputnik, it sounds like Garbage is going on first every night, and that's what happened here.
What can I tell you? Garbage played a really strong set. Shirley Manson came out in a glittery orange-red kimono-type thing with long, flowing sleeves that she used to great dramatic effect during the first few songs, before eventually ditching the sleeves and making herself more comfortable. She was in good voice (I've seen recorded concerts where she's been off), although her voice can be just a touch wild. But she mostly sounded really good, and she has a great stage presence. She began by moving slowly, but by the end of the night, she was literally running in circles around the stage. Most of the time, she doesn't so much dance as she stomps around the stage and often into the crowd, almost looking pissed off at times, although I think she's really just intense. Then she'll stop suddenly and strike a dramatic pose. This might sound silly or pretentious to you, but she's compelling to watch. And every time I took my eyes off of her to watch the rest of the band, it was hard to find her again, because she'd marched out into the crowd on one side or the other.
Two things I noticed: 1) Garbage is a really good band. They really know their stuff as musicians, and they fill the house with a wall of sound; and 2) Compared to many of her cohorts, Manson doesn't have a huge vocal range -- if you listen to Garbage's songs, there's not a lot of up or down to the notes -- the bands's stock in trade is repetition with slight variations, and this is partially because they're tailoring the music to Manson's voice. But having said that, Manson does a lot with what she has. Her voice and her personality definitely keep your interest, which I can't say about every front person.
Over the course of the set, Garbage played pretty much all of the hits you'd want to hear, including "Stupid Girl", "I'm Only Happy When It Rains", #1 Crush (the song from Romeo and Juliet) and "Special". They also did "Empty", my favorite song from their most recent album Strange Little Birds. And during the set, Manson gave what seemed to be a heartfelt tribute to Deborah Harry and how she helped to open the door for later generations of female rockers. As I said, I've been wanting to see this band for years, and they didn't let me down.
What I quickly learned, though, is that although Garbage was treated as a headliner by the crowd, Blondie was received as superstars. And God bless them, they earned it. They immediately fired the crowd up by opening with two of their classics, "One Way or Another" and "Hanging on the Telephone", both from their timeless Parallel Lines album. Deborah Harry came out wearing what almost looked like a matador's outfit, complete with a cape that said something to the effect of "Stop Fucking Up the Earth", and sporting these weird antenna-like things on her head that I eventually figured out were large plastic (I guess) bees, in honor of the band's new Pollinator album.
Now when I reviewed Pollinator, I kind of (sadly) trashed Debby a little for the state of her voice. There's no getting around it, you can certainly hear some of the effects of age there. For a 72-year-old woman, though, her voice is still pretty amazing, and she's still a tremendously entertaining singer. If you're a longtime Blondie fan like Denise and I are, it might make you a little sad, but let's face it -- we're all getting older. And in comparison to some other artists of the '70s and '80s, her voice is in better shape than that of many of her contemporaries.
Anyway, Blondie kept the fans' interest throughout, although definitely more so on their older classics like "Rapture", "Call Me" and "Atomic" than on the four songs they played from Pollinator (one of which Denise joked should have been called "Bathroom Break"). They closed their set with the biggest hit single of their career, "Heart of Glass", then came back for an encore of "The Tide Is High" and "Dreaming". Denise and I sang along with Debbie as we scooted back up that hill, because we were pre-warned (threatened, nearly) that the shuttle bus leaves 15 minutes after the show, so we'd better not dawdle. But the sound carried well throughout the ground, and we'd already given the band their well-deserved standing "O" after "Heart of Glass", so were happy (if a little breathless) campers. And singing along with Debby helped to keep us moving.
So that was it, really. For me, it was the highlight show of my summer of music. Garbage was everything I hoped for, and Blondie reminded me again why they're one of my Favorite 20 bands of all time.
My Foster the People album review will probably my next entry here. I thought I might catch Mama Mia! at The Gateway this week, but that probably won't happen now unless I feel really inspired tomorrow night (although I will be seeing their version of Little Shop of Horrors later this month).
So peace out, faithful readers. For now, anyway.