With Saturday’s Show At South Side Ballroom, Garbage Keeps Getting Better With Age.

All I remember from that 1996 road-trip to Minneapolis, is how tiny Billy Corgan and James Iha looked from my imposter’s perch up at the FOH soundboard. My buddy was the system engineer for the Smashing Pumpkins tour, and I’d taken the opportunity to drive up there with his wife and my girlfriend to catch the show at the Target Center.

I definitely don’t remember the performance from Garbage, the opener on that tour, and it’s too bad, because I really came to like them as soon as I could point my attention towards them instead of arguing with my girlfriend. I should have been paying very close attention to them. They were one of the bands that popped up when people were trying to find something to compare one of the bands I played in, Vibrolux, to something someone might’ve actually heard. Shirley Manson and our Kim Pendleton (now Bonner) didn’t sound that much alike — the bands even less so — but both women were at least similar in that they are both brilliant and weren’t the least bit chirpy or shouty like many of the female singers record companies were pushing at the time.

And Garbage had probably been working on their cover of The Jam’s “The Butterfly Collector” around the same time that Vibrolux, with U2 engineer Robbie Adams producing, had gone into the Crystal Clear studio to record our version of the same song for a Paul Weller tribute album in the works for our new record label Polydor. It was Garbage’s version that eventually ended up on Fire And Skill: The Songs Of The Jam, but I still like ours better.

Garbage has flamed in and out several times since then, including through the almost inevitable turn-of-the-millennium tour of duty with Interscope Records. As much as I loved Garbage, I confess I’d lost track of them since they did the theme to The World is Not Enough. Probably a lot of people did, judging the way their Beautiful Garbage album got mostly buried by distraction in the immediate post 9/11 world.

Hopefully most people know by now that breakups and reunions for bands are largely a state of mind, and Garbage is a good example. A band is an abstraction that hangs on a skeleton of songs and sounds and personalities, and as long as there are people interested in some combination of those things, there’s almost always hope for a band. So despite fights and illnesses and break-ups and reunions, the recording and touring output of Garbage has been as strong or stronger than any bands that have or have not officially broken-up or gone on hiatus or had artistic differences or gone into rehab.

And you know what? Their output is good. In anticipation of shooting their gig at Southside Ballroom (which was still called the Palladium the last time I was in that room, and Gilley’s the last time I played in there) I did a little quickie review of what’s been happening in the 20 years since I last saw them, listening to a few selected tunes on the internet. It all sounded like the Garbage I knew, and it is all really good. It’s not guaranteed, but it turns out that people often get even better at this shit the older they get.

To that end, there was no shortage of oldsters both on and off the stage, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Shirley used every inch of that big wide stage, while Butch, Duke, Steve (and touring bass player Eric Avery, and plenty of backing tracks) played album-perfect, elder-statesman versions of every song you wanted to hear. The old-timers cheered for the oldest, deepest cuts, and the youngsters (not including all the kids reliving their cool parents’ glory years from the side of the stage) sang along with more recent stuff. And even if you didn’t know the songs, the low end of the synths managed to find the resonant frequencies of the room’s bar structures, making them shudder and rattle as much as the best hip-hop bass samples — something for everyone.

The only people who may have been a little short-changed were just-signed openers Cigarettes After Sex, whose dimly lit, barely moving, eyes-closed band gently pushed out a set that drifted drowsily between dreamy and soporific. Even their diaphanous cover of REO Speedwagon’s “Keep On Lovin’ You” was hovering dangerously close to a lullaby. I guess that’s one way to guarantee the headliner will come out seeming even more full of energy and, hey, it worked.

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