The 1990s was perhaps the last great decade to be a woman in the music industry. That's not to say we don't have amazing women making music now — we do. But the '90s gave us the riot grrrl, Lilith Fair, and a plethora of female-fronted acts. Today, it's hard to find a female voice on rock radio — if you're lucky enough to live in a city that still has a rock station. In fact, outside of pop music, the same could be said of any genre.
Well, nobody told Shirley Manson of Garbage and Debbie Harry of Blondie that their time was up — and I'm sure they give zero fucks if you think they ought to step aside. Last night, at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, their bands coheadlined the night, proving that age has only made them better performers. Their voices still sound as good as any studio recording and they both commanded the stage better than most acts today.
This being a joint tour, both bands played shortened sets of about 15 songs each. That was bad news if you expected lots of deep cuts and banter, but great if you just wanted to hear the hits.
Garbage took the stage first, shortly before 8 p.m., with a set list that ran the gamut of tracks off their latest album, Strange Little Birds, hits, and even a few rarities.
Wrapped in a bright red dress that matched her hair color, Manson led the band in a sonic assault that showed off all the best attributes of the '90s icons. From the menacing siren call of "#1 Crush" to the Shangri-Las-inspired tune "Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)," few bands are as skilled as Garbage in translating their studio recordings into a live setting.
Hits like "I Think I'm Paranoid," "Stupid Girl," "Push It," and "Special" still hold up well in a contemporary setting. But more impressive was how new cuts like "Empty" and "Even Though Our Love Is Doomed" showed that the band's songwriting and production skills are still on point two decades later.
Manson was charismatic during the show, hyping up the Girls Rock Camp organization (she met with Miami's organizers before the show) and dedicating "Cherry Lips" to the band's LBGTQ fans — "Without you we would have no career," Manson said, as gay fans cheered in response.
If there was one minor problem in Garbage's show, it was the production. The stage was decidedly barren, and consisted of lights and a glittery backdrop. I've seen acts put on a more impressive stage show with less. Still, all that empty space meant Manson, guitarist Steve Marker, and bassist Duke Erikson had plenty of room to roam the stage, and perhaps they like it that way.
Before you knew it, Garbage closed out its short set with a trio of back-to-back hits — "Only Happy When It Rains," "Push It," and "Vow." "Only Happy When It Rains" started out as lounge-y ballad before the band kicked into high gear as Manson sulked on the floor.
After a 30-minute intermission, Blondie took the stage against a three-screen backdrop that pushed the Pollinator theme. (The band's latest album is putting a spotlight on the world's dwindling bee population.) Kicking right into "One Way or Another," the new wave pioneers' set was filled with hit after hit after hit. I fully underestimated how many popular songs the band released in its heyday.
During the Giorgio Moroder-produced "Call Me," keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen stepped to the front of the stage donning a keytar as the crowd erupted in cheers.
Except for a few song intros, Harry was much less chatty than Manson, but did manage to reveal that a possible tour with Charli XCX is in the works. (Charli XCX penned a song for Blondie's latest release.)
And while hits like "Heart of Glass" and "The Tide Is High" were crowd favorites — the entire audience sang along to Harry's signature coo during "Glass" of "Ooh ooh ooh oh oh" — cuts like "Fun" and "Long Time" showed off why Pollinator might be Blondie's best contemporary album. "Fun" is an electropop track that drips with the disco influences that made the band popular in the late '70s.
But if Harry and Manson proved anything last night, it was that women still have a place in rock 'n' roll. Perhaps it's not on popular radio, but it's certainly influencing the next generation.
Garbage set list:
- "No Horses"
- "Sex Is Not the Enemy"
- "#1 Crush"
- "I Think I'm Paranoid"
- "Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)"
- "Why Do You Love Me"
- "Even Though Our Love Is Doomed"
- "The World Is Not Enough"
- "Stupid Girl"
- "Only Happen When It Rains"
- "Push It"
Blondie set list:
- "One Way or Another"
- "Hanging on the Telephone" (The Nerves cover)
- "Call Me"
- "My Monster"
- "Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35" (Bob Dylan cover)
- "Fragments" (An Unkindness cover)
- "Too Much"
- "Long Time"
- "Heart of Glass"
- "The Tide Is High" (The Paragons cover)