Garbage: One Mile High… Live

Garbage - One Mile High LiveSynopsis: After a five year break, 2012 saw Garbage back in the spotlight with a new studio album Not Your Kind Of People followed by their first world tour for seven years. Filmed on this tour at the Ogden Theatre in Denver, Colorado on October 6th, One Mile High…Live is the first ever DVD release of a full Garbage live concert. Charismatic singer Shirley Manson leads from the front propelled by the twin guitars of Steve Marker and Duke Erikson and the powerhouse drumming of Butch Vig with Eric Avery providing bass guitar for the live shows. The band mix highlights from the new album with classic tracks from across their career to produce the ultimate Garbage live experience.

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Garbage: One Mile High… Live 8.0

eyelights: Shirley’s tenacity. Shirley’s stage presence. the mind-blowing songs.
eyesores: Shirley’s reduced range. the stage transition of the more produced songs. the sequencing.

In 2012, seven years after releasing their vastly under-rated rock explosion, ‘Bleed Like Me’, Garbage returned from a lengthy hiatus with a brand new album, ‘Not Your Kind of People’. Released on their own label for the first time, it was considered a welcome return to form by many critics.

Personally, I was underwhelmed. This had never happened once since I discovered the band back in 1995. The songs were good, but they seemed to blend into one another, with only a couple of tracks standing out from the rest. They also didn’t push any envelopes, something I always liked in the past.

I played the damned album. I played it and played it and played as much as I could, but I always ended up tuning out. The previous albums had captured my attention for weeks, if not months, on end. I even sought out all the CD singles I could get – such was the extent of the frenzy that they sparked in me.

Actually, I found this album less interesting than even the B-sides from their previous singles (I have been known to create alternate albums with the B-sides, remixes and non-album cuts for my favourite albums, and Garbage’s first three albums all had enough extra material to make delicious doppelgänger discs).

I was disappointed, but I remained a die-hard fan. And so it was that I received the news of a live Blu-ray release with all the enthusiasm of a 12-year-old on Christmas morn: I was at the local store pestering the staff to get me a copy on release day, something I don’t do with all artists and/or releases.

Unfortunately, as with many of my purchases, it got lost in a sea of other viewing material. However, it persistently stayed on my radar the whole time and it almost made it to my player many times, only to be railroaded by more pressing viewings. Now, however, I felt was the time to finally get around to it.

This is the month of $#!tkicker female artists, after all. And Shirley Manson is a $#!tkicker.

‘One Mile High… Live’ is a concert Blu-ray that was recorded on October 6, 2012, at the Ogden Theater in Denver, Colorado, and was apparently broadcast live on AXS TV. It was originally slated for April 25, 2012, but was rescheduled (for which Shirley Manson would apologize to this eve’s concertgoers).

For the show, which had Eric Avery (of Jane’s Addiction fame) assisting on bass, Garbage decided to strip it all down and give audiences a rock show without any distracting frills such as guest vocalists or special effects (aside from a few projections and lights). The intention was to represent the band at its purest.

Warts and all.

The Ogden Theater is an old school theater with an upper deck that wraps around the sides of the hall. Built in 1917, for concerts it has a capacity of up to 1600. I couldn’t tell how many people were there because they were all packed together so tightly, but the hall was clearly filled to capacity.

The show started with no warning to album opener “Automatic Systemic Habit”, by far the catchiest ditty on ‘Not Your Kind of People’. It’s a punchy number and a great way to start the night, but it’s too brief and formulaic to be entirely satisfying. Still, it’s also too short to overstay its welcome.

Much like the stage was dressed in a simple fashion, the band was mostly in black. Shirley had her hair up in a bun and covered by a shawl, and stood in 4 inch heels. Duke wore a suit, looking like he’d fit in with the Elvis Costello crowd. Steve wore a shirt, pants and a cap. And Butch? Well he’s just Butch.

The first few numbers were a little strange. Shirley wandered about or just stood there, seeming unenthused, while Duke and Steve manically played their guitars (Steve, in particular, overdid the rock guitar god mania). It was only by fourth track, “Why Do You Love Me”, that she finally seemed energized.

Having finally shed her shawl, she was getting down to business. She would shortly remove those godawful high heels to put on flat boots reminiscent of traditional boxing booties. This was fitting because Manson finally got into her usual pugilistic mode, fisting the air, pacing, becoming more physical.

By the sixth track, “Stupid Girl”, the Garbage that I had wanted to see had made it to the stage, fronted by an @$$-kicking Shirley Manson, who just owned the stage, the crowd and the theatre. Although I wasn’t as keen on some of the tracks that they chose to play, I was fully engaged just by watching her.

I will have to say one thing for Shirley: on top of being a force of nature, she is a total professional. It was evident very early on that she was struggling with her voice, being unable to hit many of the high notes, but she found ways to get through her songs, singing in a different register. And very well at that.

Unfortunately, this changed the sound of the songs, because many of them rely on some high notes in their chorus. This was disappointing. Also disappointing was that, being a heavily-produced band, their songs didn’t translate well on stage – many flourishes and textures (including background vocals) were absent.

I was slightly bemused by their setlist, too – not so much the choice of the songs (although I would have swapped a few) but their juxtaposition. Playing the slinky “Queer” between the balls out “Why Do You Love Me” and high energy “Stupid Girl” didn’t make sense, for instance. The set wasn’t entirely flowy.

By the end, however, they had it together more, serving up a luscious version of “Milk” (which could only have been better if Shirley had her full voice) and a lovely version of “Only Happy When it Rains” (still my favourite of theirs) which began slow, with piano, before finally kicking it into full gear.

The encore was even better: They jumped into the breathtaking “Supervixen” and killed it all the way to “Vow”. Although “The Trick is to Keep Breathing” was missing the “Dooh dooh doohs” that are key hooks, due to Shirley vocal issues, it was still beautiful. You couldn’t have asked for a better closing set.

And then the show was over, as abruptly as it had begun. I just couldn’t believe how quickly it had flown by, even though it was a full 90-minute show comprised of 20 songs. With some bands, that would have been too much for me, but it was almost not enough for me. Garbage really got under my skin.

Although I found that many of the songs suffered in their stripped down versions and Shirley’s vocals limitations stripped them of their veneer (particularly “#1 Crush”, which forced Duke to do the hook on his guitar instead), they are an awesome band to watch. I really wish that I could see them in the flesh.

I have been and remain a fan. A die-hard fan. Probably til I die.

Nota bene: I rated each song individually, based on their rendition/performance. To get a sense of what I think of the studio version (where available), please read my review of their videos. You’ll note that in some cases I preferred the live version to the studio ones. And vice versa.

1. Automatic Systematic Habit 8.0
2. I Think I’m Paranoid 7.75
3. Shut Your Mouth 7.5
4. Why Do You Love Me 8.5
5. Queer 8.0
6. Stupid Girl 8.0
7. Hammering in my Head 7.5
8. Control 7.5
9. #1 Crush 7.5
10. Cherry Lips 8.0
11. Big Bright World 7.5
12. Blood for Poppies 7.75
13. Special 7.75
14. Milk 8.0
15. Battle in Me 7.5
16. Push It 8.25
17. Only Happy When it Rains 8.0
18. Supervixen 8.0
19. The Trick is to Keep Breathing 8.0
20. Vow 8.0

The disc also features a half-dozen featurettes including a so-called “Pre-show Warm Up” which consisted of the band acting goofy on camera to the sounds of “The Absentee Polka”. Don’t ask. Then there are five bits on “Automatic Systematic Habit”, “Battle in Me”, “Big Bright World”, “Blood for Poppies” and “Control”.

Each of these are very brief, ranging from 50 seconds to 2 minutes. They’re all black and white and look very good, but provide little substance. I suspect that they were online teasers for the then-upcoming new album. From that perspective, they’re perfect: they make each song sound tasty. But here it’s redundant.

Pleasant, but redundant. It’s for completists and die-hard fans only.

There are also a couple of videos for songs from ‘Not Your Kind of People’:

(Nota bene: I subjectively rated the songs and videos separately, in the following format: song/video)

1. Big Bright World: One of the band’s more positive tracks, this one starts with a electronic pulse and vocals. When the song kicks in, it’s pretty kick @$$. However, it takes a full minute to do so. There are some good moments, but it doesn’t amount to one of their greatest efforts. To me it’s B-side material.

This black and white video features lots of religious imagery, including statues, cemeteries, candles, …etc. Only Shirley shows up here, singing from inside what might be an old stone church basement, all dressed in black. When the song kicks in people are seen swimming and colour gradually seeps more and more into the picture. It’s a nice video, and it seems thematically appropriate, but it cuts so quickly that it’s hard to savour it. 7.75/7.75

2. Blood for Poppies: This was the lead single in the whole world except the UK (where “Battle in Me” was the lead single). I don’t get it, because it’s an okay track, no more. It lacks the edge I expect from Garbage. I would have released “Automatic Systematic Habit” first, maybe “I Hate Love”. But surely not this.

This video is also shot (or processed) in black and white and it’s made to look like old, scratchy, grainy footage from the ’30s. There’s a lot of seemingly disparate inserts quickly cut into the video; I couldn’t make sense of it all. Shirley is seen frolicking on the beach, whereas the others are wandering down a sidewalk. They come together at the end at a park, presumably near the beach where Shirley was in the beginning. It’s an okay video. 6.75/7.0

In the end, I’m very pleased with ‘One Mile High… Live’. I would have loved to see Garbage in a more appropriately elaborate production, and it would have been nice for Shirley to be in better form, but it’s an unapologetic rock performance – just the way they should be. It shows that the band can still bring it twenty years on.

Given that this is not an expensive product, I am wholly satisfied. There are scant special features and they’re of limited value, but this would have been a problem only if the product was sold at twice the price. From a quality/price ratio, it’s perfect. And now I’ve got a solid Garbage show on hand anytime I want to see them.

After all, they are exactly my kind of people.

Post scriptum: to get a different perspective, here’s a critique of the actual concert (not this filmed version), and published the following day: http://www.westword.com/music/garbage-at-the-ogden-theatre-10-6-12-5702421

Date of viewing: February 13, 2015

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