Sunday, August 13, 2017

Rage, Rapture and Transcendence: Blondie, Garbage and Deap Vally in Orlando

blondie garbage

This past Wednesday, August 9th at the Hard Rock Live in Orlando, my wife and I went to the Rage and Rapture show, featuring Blondie, Garbage and Deap Vally. It was somewhere near the end of Blondie’s set, during “Dreaming” that my brain sort of returned to me enough to interpret what I’d been feeling during the whole show that night. Here I was, seeing this band I grew up listening to but had never seen. This band that represents a whole scene in rock history that I hold in the highest regard and while they are older and far removed from CBGB’s in the 70s, what they delivered this night was still relevant, vital and filled with heart. It made me think of the concert experience, of music, of art, of life in general. It was transcendent.

On New Year's Eve, 1991, I went to my first concert, ever: Guns n Roses at Joe Robbie Stadium. On August 8th, 2017, I drove through hellish traffic to see the impossibly reunited (mostly) Guns N Roses at Marlins Park in Miami, arriving three songs into their set, but appropriately, just in time for “Welcome to the Jungle.” It was hot and muggy, with the smell of weed and cotton candy in the air. The circus atmosphere of the venue made sense. I outgrew GnR many years ago. I find Axl’s voice grating. But my wife never saw them and wanted to go so I support. And while I didn’t much care for the show, it was great to see her rocking out to the hits.

Axl Rose

Sound at stadiums is shit, there’s no way around that. But I will say the band did sound like they were on point otherwise, at least technically. Even Axl, who’s voice can’t quite reach those annoying notes, so he comes off a bit more subdued. But still, there was a point where I realized Slash had played every single note in existence and while I was impressed with his technical ability, I was also bored with his choices (or lack thereof). Every song seemed to go on much longer than it needed to with solos and vamps that became interchangeable. To me it felt like they were just living up to the expectation of delivering the 30 song set list in an almost mechanical way, dressing it up in “Rock n Roll excess.” It was more about “look at us, all old but still rocking” than having any real passion for the music. Interestingly enough, the best song of the night was “Attitude” a Misfits cover, sung by Duff McKagan, which appeared on The Spaghetti Incident and was played short, sweet and aggressive, as it should be.

When it was all said and done, this show came across exactly like the cash grab that it was and nothing more. This is a group of guys that mostly put aside how much they hate each other because the money was too much to turn down. Maybe it’s the size of the venue and maybe people in the front row got a different vibe, but this was spectacle and not much else. So it was a stark, refreshing, contrast to see the Rage and Rapture tour the following night in a much more appropriate and intimate venue.

Lindsey troy julie edwards

I was excited for all three bands that night, but if I’m being honest, I was most excited for Deap Vally. This is one of my favourite bands of the past few years, who put out my favorite album of 2016, Femejism, and aside from an in-store at Radio-Active Records, I had yet to catch them live. I was not disappointed in the least, even though their set was short. Opening up with “End of the World” from their first album, Sistrionix, they instantly got the (fellow) olds in the audience to pay attention. Just before they went on I had heard several people in the audience saying “oh, there’s some other band” with shades of disappointment. But they couldn’t deny the power of Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards as they ripped through their set. At one point, I heard myself loudly “woohooing” when Lindsey introduced “Smile More,” and I’m sure I drew some looks near me. Soon, they all understood though. I was particularly blown away by Ms. Edwards’ skill on the drums as she beat out complex, hard and funky rhythms with apparent ease. After their set, they went out to the merch table to say hi and sign stuff so I ran out there. I’m sure I came off like a total fanboy, but you know what, good. They deserve ardent fans of all ages and genders and I am not ashamed of my excitement.

not ashamed

On the way back to the floor, holding my second copy of Femejism (now signed), the lights dimmed and Garbage exploded into their new song “No Horses,” an excellent apocalyptic song that is perfect for our times. I was stuck halfway to my wife who was still standing about 2 people back from the stage, as Shirley Manson and the boys destroyed us all. Back in the late 90s when Garbage first came out, I was pretty heavily into them, but I had never seen them live until this night and they blew me away. Shirley Manson’s stage presence is a beautiful ballet of performance and laid back honesty that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in anyone else. When she sings “this is the apocalypse” you believe her. At one point she dedicated “Special” to a fan from Orlando they had come to know, who passed away, and her voice cracked a little. She talked about how much their fans means to them and it was clearly sincere and heartfelt. These candid moments would then lead to her performing a song with all of her essence like it was a theater piece, sometimes throwing hands over her head in ecstasy, sometimes down on her knees in pain, or dragging the mic stand around in a gloomy march and even, for part of “Only Happy When it Rains” standing perfectly still, hair in face, like a true goth queen as the world exploded around her.

shirley manson

I was happily surprised that they played “The World Is Not Enough,” their contribution to the history of great James Bond themes. The annihilation Garbage unleashed on us peaked with a devastating “Push It” that had everyone dancing and jumping. Throughout the night I kept trying to figure out how they were incorporating some of their more electronic beats and sounds, because it was seamless. Of course, Butch Vig was playing what seemed to be a fully electronic drum set, but none of it felt anything but organic. The sound at the Hard Rock Live is among the best I’ve ever heard. It’s loud and clear and just what a band made up of studio geeks needs.

The crowd seemed to be there mostly because of Garbage based on the energy level. Although, I doubt anyone could have resisted what the band was doing even if they weren’t there for them. By the time they got to the closer, “Vow” everyone was amped up and ready for more from Blondie. It’s probably the best handoff from one band to another I’ve ever seen. And here I have to shout out the roadies that spent next to no time resetting the stage between sets. Within maybe 10 or 15 minutes, they were done and we were back in business, not losing any momentum.

The screens filled with static and a loud buzzing was playing as Blondie opened with a ferocious “One Way or Another” and straight into “Hanging on the Telephone.” And there they were, these - as Shirley Manson had said during her set - “Icons of Rock,” and I was standing mere feet away from them. I’ll never be able to go back to CBGB in the 70s and this show wasn’t that, but I was struck instantly by how this band was still sounding so fucking good after all these years and how they had so much energy. Continuing my focus on drummers, Clem Burke has not lost a single beat and I was kind of out of breath just watching his aerobic display.

debbie harry

What mostly stood out to me during this set was how this was not a set by a band relying on their past glory. Their latest album Pollinator features songs written mostly by or with other artists such as Johnny Marr, Sia, Charli XCX and Dev Hynes. The new songs are good and relevant and the album is solid. But I have to say these songs really came alive when played live. They didn’t just stand up next to the classics, they brought their own vibe to the party as well and it was more than welcomed. In an unexpected twist, I saw several people singing along to the new songs. And not for nothing, but at Guns n Roses, mostly people just sat through songs from Chinese Democracy. But that’s to be expected. This band may not be all the original members, but the history of the band is one that is too complicated to be hung up on that. The core of the band, Debbie Harry, Chris Stein and Clem Burke have held in place and rather than having interchangeable hired hands come in, they’ve just expanded their core over the years. So, Leigh Foxx, Matt Katz-Bohen and Tommy Kessler are absolutely vital parts of this whole and it comes through in every note.

About halfway through, a raucous “Rapture” lead to a cover of Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35” that was unexpected but still had us all singing the “everybody must get stoned” chorus with glee. And then came what was probably the standout song of the night, from the new album, a cover of “Fragments” by an Unkindness. This song is rather grand in scope, going from ballad to driving plea and back, in an almost theatrical, progressive structure. It’s a song where the band as a whole can really shine due to the complexity and they didn’t just shine, they blew the roof off of the place with it. It’s a longish song but god damn it if I didn’t want it to continue. When the last note played, I was just standing there awestruck and I don’t think I was alone. This is good on the album, but live it was absolutely holy.

I was beyond happy that they played one of my favorite songs of all time by anyone, “Atomic.” And they didn’t just play it, they played the fuck out of it, with Ms. Harry smiling, jumping and dancing like a 20 year old. They could have just ended it there and I would have been happy. But then came “Heart of Glass” with just as much joy and energy as they started with. For the encore, they came back for “The Tide is High” and closed the show with a performance of “Dreaming” that was sincerely inspiring and moving. At one point Ms. Harry spoke as the band played, calling on us to dream and be creative not just as a means to achieving personal fulfillment, but a call for creativity as a method of protest in a time when it is sorely needed. She repeated the line “dreaming is free” over and over as the band played and I felt myself getting choked up. It's the simplest things that make a difference sometimes. And that’s where I was really struck with the contrasts of the show I’d seen the previous night and this one. Heroes can fall or sell out. They can refuse to let go when they should or quit while they’re ahead. They can be replaced or forgotten altogether. They can stop being relevant or they can transcend. They can fade away or radiate.

Shirley Manson spoke several times during her set, shouting out her tour mates and particularly pointing out that being a woman in rock is hard and takes a tough woman. She praised both Deap Vally and Debbie Harry for this and thereby glued the show together as, not so much a statement, but a celebration of women in rock and I can’t think of three bands that could better represent this at this moment. The progression is clear between the 3 and it’s fantastic that they can coexist simply as badass musicians, icons and heroes.


  1. I was fortunate to catch 2/3rds of this show on Friday the 11th in Austin - traffic and whatnot doomed us to miss Deap Valley - but I can only echo your sentiments about Garbage and Blondie's performances. I had been lucky enough to see Blondie a few years ago at the same venue, and as good as that show was - this one was better. Harry was more energetic, she went for the tough notes, she was more engaged with the audience - like, she could have played the aloof rockstar and had instead was right there with the crowd.

    Now, the audience in Austin was definitely there for Blondie - given the number of people who showed up in Blondie shirts and the fact I literally saw the guy in front of my looking at Garbage's Wikipedia page during their set. But... I will be going to see Garbage every time they come to town. That was a phenomenal set, and everything you said about Manson is true. If the audience was excited to see Blondie (and they went bananas), and there was any doubt about Garbage, they were utterly won over.

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