I was painfully aware of how much I didn’t fit in at Garbage’s Oct. 23 House of Blues concert. The tour celebrated the 20th birthday of their sophomore album, “Version 2.0.” I had just turned 19. I felt like a baby. Trying to find fellow people of color among the sea of grunge adults, I severely strained my eyes. I overheard an audience member say, “I hate to be that person, but rap is just people saying a lot of curse words,” and I instinctively sidled away. To top it all off, to reach the House of Blues, I had waded through not only thunderstorms but also Red Sox fans and was doing my best to not let on that I had been raised on Yankees games. I stuck out like the sore thumbs, pointer fingers, and pinkies of the devil’s horn hands that prodded the air far more often than was appropriate for pop-angled post-grunge.
It’s possible that without any memories of the ’90s at my disposal, I was poorly equipped to love a “20 Years Paranoid” tour concert. As much as those songs have been hailed as timeless, and as much as their choruses have latched onto my brain — seriously, I can’t shake them off — their performances of the first several songs failed to convince me of the continuing relevance of “Version 2.0” any more than listening to the album versions had. Flat-sounding percussion patterns, Shirley Manson’s weird superhero costume, and predictable rhyme schemes struck me as intriguing but unsubtle. Even the electro part of their electro-rock sounded plain.
But I was won over by Garbage’s eagerness to put the past in its place even while unabashedly celebrating it. “Some of these songs we may not play again,” Manson said. If Garbage really was throwing any of the tracks a goodbye party on this tour, they let them go out with a bang. They mixed up the order of the album, threw in b-sides and covers, and smartly pushed the punch of “I Think I’m Paranoid” and pop of “When I Grow Up” toward the end. For the most part, Garbage deftlywalked the line between tormented and confident that characterized “Version 2.0.”And they were not afraid to update some material: Commenting on the relevance of a rearranged “Soldier Through This,” Manson said, “I love the idea that things are changing and gender is dead.” (Manson made this aspirational oversimplification charming and sincere.) And their performance of “No Horses” proved that they still write strong tracks.
Manson was in control of the show. Her voice was full-bodied, her charisma even more so. She glowed with a cheeky sincerity that almost justified her superhero getup. In a speech right before the encore, she even convinced me (for a minute) that I was glad the Red Sox were in the lead next door. She ribbed a long-time fan (“Back then she was just this little school girl, fucking weirdo freak”), made demands of the audience (“I want that poster of my dog. Pass that the fuck up”), and gave well-deserved praise to their opening act, Rituals of Mine (“They’re very disciplined, which turns me on a little”). Upon the first notes of “Only Happy When It Rains,” concertgoers, channeling Garbage’s parody of its own angst, transformed into parodies of their 1990s teenage selves, enraptured — perhaps by Manson, perhaps by the fact that a thunderstorm raged outside, or perhaps by an awareness of how far they had come.
—Staff Writer Liana E. Chow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.