Girls Against Boys
It's amazing to remember that three years ago, Garbage was notable as a slickly produced weekend excursion for a trio of experienced producers, the most notable being alterna-grunge board wizard Butch Vig (Nevermind, Siamese Dream).
My, how the worm has turned. Garbage has now become a successful headlining concert act instead of a sidebar. Even more surprising is that Vig is nearly invisible behind his drum kit at Garbage shows--all eyes are stage front.
And why wouldn't they be? Rescued from the one-hit hell of Angelfish by a now legendary bit of fortuitous timing, Shirley Manson has emerged into a star before our eyes--a cocksure pop tart with a smoldering stage presence (and razor-sharp tongue) capable of charming hardened, cynical audiences in a heartbeat.
Throughout the set's eighteen songs (split between Garbage and this year's splendid Version 2.0, with some B-sides for sweetening), Manson's powerful voice waxed spiteful, hurt, yearning, and sensual without a hitch.
Oh yeah, she's got a pretty good back-up band, too.
The primary reason everyone showed up at the Agora on a miserable, rain-swept Tuesday night was because Garbage's streamlined fusion of industrial, dance, and grunge rocks. Vig and guitarists/keyboardists Steve Marker and Duke Erikson (a.k.a. David Carradine's evil twin) whipped up a tornado of ferocious sound that fired up the churning mosh pit during "Not My Idea," "Supervixen," "Push It," and the rarely performed "Queer" B-side "Trip My Wire."
Loud and heavy as they can be, Garbage concerts are hardly crowd-tossing marathons, as the rabidly received ballads "#1 Crush," "You Look So Fine," and "Milk" can attest. Equally appreciated was dancier fare like "Special," "Only Happy When It Rains," "When I Grow Up," "Push It," a smashing "Stupid Girl" (complete with a jab at the Spice Girls anthem "Wannabe"), and a warp-speed blitz through "Hammering in My Head."
Aside from Manson's irresistible vamping, the striking, sweeping lightshow, and the band's precision-tuned sonics, perhaps the most notable aspect of Garbage's concert is that it was fun--no putting on airs, shoe gazing, preaching, or mumbling about how much life as a touring musician sucks rocks. Faced with the thankless task of warming up for the hotly anticipated headliners, Girls Against Boys came out swinging and quickly proved to be an intense and interestingly edgy opening act (crowd-surfing inflatables didn't hurt, either). Leaping around as if wired to a live current, the energetic four-piece promoted its current album, Freak*On*Ica, with a jagged, post-punk leaning set of synth-tinged college rock that earned a pleasantly surprised response.
Goo Goo Dolls
As rock and roll palates make another swing toward back-to-basics sounds, it appears the Goo Goo Dolls--admittedly the scion of bands like the Replacements and HYsker DY--are in the right place at the right time. If selling out the Agora Theatre is any sign, the Goo Goo Dolls are at the top of their game, and their energetic show revealed why.
With confusing strobe lights shredding the audience, the Buffalo band took the candlelit stage and dove into "Dizzy," the first track off its latest, Dizzy Up the Girl. From the start, lead singer/guitarist John Rzeznik was the main draw with his powerful, magnetic voice. On this particular song, he varied from a flowing, melodic delivery to the more harsh, unrefined style.
"Slide," the current single, was greeted with overwhelming approval from the packed Agora audience. Normally a trio, the Dolls brought along an extra guitarist as well as a keyboardist for this leg of the tour. While the guitarist helped round out the sound, the keys were neither here nor there.
Other songs from their new disc included "Bullet Proof," with an impressive, controlled solo by Rzeznik--and the sobering "Broadway." The latter track featured a harmonica player who just didn't fit into the show.
"Naked," which started out a bit slower than its album counterpart, desperately needed a back-up singer or two to help Rzeznik out. While his voice is generally strong, on this song it seemed shallow. The acoustic "Name" was every bit as compelling as the studio version. On a few occasions, Rzeznik's pointless banter with the audience between songs went long.
Bass player Rob Takac took over lead vocal duties on a few tunes, including "Full Forever," the infectious "January Friend," and the uptempo "Burnin' Up."
The anthem-like "Iris," from the City of Angels soundtrack, was the song most everyone waited to hear. With its emotional lyrics, ethereal keyboards, and Rzeznik's earnest voice, the song gave the audience the rush they wanted. Almost on cue, a good number of the crowd began to shuffle out after "Iris," every radio-friendly Goo Goo Dolls song they knew having been played.
While the mainstream side of the band can reach everyone, the inner child still wants to let loose and rock. And on this brisk November night, the band did both.
Opening the show was the formidable quartet Athenaeum. If the lead singer's distinctive voice didn't catch your attention, the band's grinding guitars did. Athenaeum's set varied from groove-oriented rock to arena rock--impressive, and worth another look next time they're in town.
It was a touching scene last Thursday night at Gund Arena when drummer Liberty DeVito threw an arm around longtime friend Billy Joel and welcomed him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame "on behalf of the band, the crew, and everyone here."
The crowd didn't leave this tender moment alone. They went nuts.
Joel, who'd been named an inductee two days earlier, seemed genuinely affected. But he didn't let on too much. "If I'm going into the Rock Hall, then Liberty's coming with me," he said.
The Long Island native thanked Cleveland fans by playing twenty of his biggest hits during a two-hour show. Joel didn't ease into his upbeat material, opening with "You May Be Right," "Allentown," and "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)."
Joel's looking beefy these days, but he still carries himself well. Dressed in battleship gray jacket and slacks, he darted from his rotating grand piano to a pair of synthesizers (one at each corner of the stage) with a pace belying his 49 years.
Joel's voice was also remarkable, considering that a recent bout with laryngitis forced him to postpone the concert from its original September date. He shouted out the paranoid "Pressure," hit all the high notes on "Innocent Man" (a stunt Joel used to assign to back-up singers), and sang "My Life" with equal conviction.
Joel displayed his ever-sharp piano finesse on the poignant "Summer Highland Falls," the urgent "Prelude/Angry Young Man," the tender "Lullabye," and the romantic "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant." Reverend Billy preached from his piano on "River of Dreams," but "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" brought out the hip-swaggering Elvis in him.
Not unexpectedly, "Piano Man" wrapped things up. Per tradition, the capacity audience sang the last chorus back to the entertainer. Given Joel's new interest in classical composition, it may well have been Cleveland's last chance to hear him sing the song live in concert. It wasn't to be missed.
Cleveland State Convocation Center
Judging from the helicopter searchlights and the number of squad cars around the perimeter of the CSU Convocation Center, it would seem that the Cleveland Police were expecting some sort of illegal activity at last Friday's Phish concert. Perhaps the cops were expecting someone to break the Convocation Center's stringent no-smoking policy.
Where the real smoking occurred was the on stage. Not from smoke machines or flashpots, but from Phish itself. Those willing to dismiss this unassuming quartet as merely a group of Grateful Dead knockoffs clearly don't have an appreciation for the chops these guys possess. Phish's unique amalgam of jam-rock, jazz, blues, and country certainly didn't go unappreciated by the sellout crowd or the thousands partying joyfully outside despite being unable to snag a ticket.
Performing two sets that clocked in at about two and a half hours, Phish managed to highlight just about all of its musical influences, starting with the jazz-influenced "Wolfman Brother" and the bluegrass swagger of "Ginseng Sullivan," with each subsequent number evolving into the freeform jam sessions for which Phish is so well known.
The remainder of the first set was made up primarily of midtempo numbers like "It's Ice" and the country-tinged "Water in the Sky," from Phish's just-released album The Story of the Ghost. A rush of energy came during the first set's closers, "The Sloth," and its segue, "Antelope," on which guitarist Trey Anastasio led a rocking free-for-all that crescendoed into a frantic set finisher.
After an extended intermission, Phish returned to keep the masses dancing with "Down With Disease." Some of Anastasio's best guitar work, a particularly inspired solo, came during "Sample in a Jar." The remainder of the relatively brief set was average at best. While the band's sound and instrumental performances were crisp and clear during the first set, the jams often sounded gratuitous during the second set, particularly during "Dirt," on which McConnell's funk-inflected organ noodling seemed to break from the drawn-out slow jam the other members of the band were building.
Many in attendance seemed surprised that the encore consisted of but one song, a fantastic cover of Led Zeppelin's "Good Times, Bad Times," with McConnell doing a dead-on vocal impersonation of Robert Plant. With a simple collective wave goodbye, Phish was gone. Perhaps the intermission was too long, rendering the band members unable to completely get back in stride, and leading them to call it a night. But they made Phishheads dance, which, really, is what it's all about.
Cleveland Music Hall
Marilyn Manson brought his revised glam-rock spectacle to Cleveland and performed to a sold-out crowd of 3,000 at Music Hall. Manson's flamboyant stage show was appropriately held in a theater, reinforcing that when all is said and done, it's only an act.
Manson entertained the Music Hall's attendees for over an hour. Most of the songs were from his most recent release, Mechanical Animals, but tracks like "Cake and Sodomy" and "The Beautiful People" were not forgotten.
While Manson's physical appearance may be more glamorous than before, his actions onstage haven't changed much. He spent as much time as he could fondling himself, whether it was with his own hand, bottles of water, or a bouquet of flowers handed to him by a member of the audience.
Manson didn't speak much to the crowd; he just rolled through the first eight songs, breaking only for an occasional costume change. Midway through his set, Manson became frustrated: "I'll tell you motherfuckers what, I've been in the Bible Belt all week, and they've got more attitude than you. I'm not gonna play another song unless you show me some!" Receiving a positive roar from the crowd, Manson launched into "Lunch Box."
Stage props ranged from the standard multicolored lights and strobes to a large "Drugs" sign used for the song "I Don't Like the Drugs, the Drugs Like Me." Manson introduced "Drugs" by summarizing a conversation he had with God: "Last night I talked to God. I said, 'I tried to say no to drugs, but they didn't listen. If Jesus Christ can do drugs, why can't we?'" Jesus also spent time hanging around lepers, but ...
Many of the concertgoers were greeted by wannabe soul-saving Christians who handed out literature asking "Who is Jesus?" Although some people were a bit confused about their gender or how to dress, most seemed to know their own identity, and that was more than enough for them.
The crowd welcomed 12 Rounds with open arms, but quickly turned on the band. The mixture of cheers and boos at the end of their set suggested the audience was elated to see them go. 12 Rounds' music was tight and well written, but there was a sense of individuality missing.