ALANIS MORISETTE & GARBAGE
At the Fleet Center
Monday, February 22
In the Celebrity Deathmatch face-off between Alanis Morissette and Shirley Manson of Garbage, the battle would rage to the very finish. Each singer has talent and appeal, each woman has confidence and poise. With such an even playing field, it would be difficult to predict a possible victor before match time. Admittedly, allegiances among fans are inevitable and sides would be taken. Morissette is certainly more popular in mainstream music, and Manson's Garbage is universally revered among rock critics. But even with these loyalties, the battle would be too close to call.
When Garbage was juxtaposed with Morissette and her backing band at the FleetCenter earlier this week, they neutralized any remaining bets. These women commanded their audiences with the likes of Courtney Love, Tori Amos and Madonna, regardless of genre, and it was difficult for even the most discerning observer to weigh who outcommanded the other. In order to begin figuring out who the Deathmatch winner would be, let's start with an inventory of comparisons from the show:
Manson looked better in skin-tight clothing, or at least the tight orange-red tank top she strutted in showcased her toned body better than Morissette's staid black blouse and tights outfit. In terms of voices, the Canadian-born Morissette projected with greater range and distinction than her Scottish-bred counterpart. Both women knew how to handle the stage with humorously idiosyncratic flair; Morissette frantically gesticulated, usually in a mock cathartic, self-flagellating pose while Manson scrambled crab-like from stage left to right when she was not arching her midriff in all her rock diva glory.
But focusing simply on these superficialities would belie the importance of the true measure of victory, the paramount qualities of grit and mettle that buttress more dimensioned performers. Neither Morisette nor Manson ever maximized their potential in either of these areas, and the supreme entertainment value that each of them brought to the concert couldn't mask these weaknesses. The audience loved Morissette and Garbage for the pomp and rarity of embracing a mutual moment with cultural icons, but the relationship never cut deeper than the shared hype.
Which is too bad because these two musical groups really do have the potential to affect listeners in a deeply visceral way. Morissette's enjoyable version of pop-lite is underrated. Her lyrics are accessible and addictive, providing an outlet for anger, hope and spirituality all set to a recipe melody. Denying the quality of at least her radio singles would be absurd. Throw in her characteristic wail, a newly discovered inner-harmony and the ability to whip out a harmonica or flute in mid-song, and Alanis proves that she has sufficient tools to do more than just please the masses. The pieces were present, but there was no emotional glue to cohere the songs and melodies, the lyrics and messages into a significant, moving whole.
Shirley Manson and Garbage disappointed in much the same way. The band pushed and grooved with charisma but never lived up to the depth of its recorded material. Garbage is fundamentally a postmodern pastiche of loops, synthesizers and layers of vocal tracks that could not be reproduced in a live setting--there was never any expectation of replicating the studio magic on stage. But the group provided no substitute for the irreproducible, no extra beeps or stage props or surprise supplementary music. Manson left the viewer with the impressive Technicolor image of a fluid, prancing carrot-top frontwoman; Garbage left the stage without making a lasting impression.
So when the Deathmatch must be forced to an end, a stalemate ensues. Neither Morissette nor Manson ever wins because both performances failed to outlast the moment. Neither of them loses because the musical and visual display titillated the senses, pleasing the immediate need for entertainment and the escape from the daily monotony. Their only chance of being indelible, and ultimately their only chance at Deathmatch victory, lies in the realm of CD and radio where they must be relegated. There, they can seize the banners of creative intuition and expression to supersede the notion that their live efforts lack evocative intensity.