Friday night brought a remarkable gathering of musical talent onstage at the historic Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey: three generations of rock in one place, two of which rightfully deserve the classification of “iconic,” and one that may get there someday soon. The Rage and Rapture Tour features alt-rock’s Garbage and the legendary Blondie out on the road for 2017.
Starting out the evening was the Los Angeles-based duo Deap Vally. The group, consisting of Lindsey Troy (guitar, vocals) and Julie Edwards (drums and vocals), came out in spangled, sequined spandex and stomped through a spirited glam rock anthems like “Smile More.” Troy commented positively about the tour leg winding through New Jersey, saying the scenery was much different than that which she and Edwards usually experience: “There so much green!”
The second act on the bill was Garbage, and from the first stains of the brand new track “No Horses,” it was certain that Shirley Manson, lead vocals; Steve Marker, guitar, keyboards; Duke Erikson, guitar, keyboards; and Butch Vig on drums were not there to passively fill time. Their set was generously filled with songs that span the band’s full catalog, from the most recent album Strange Little Birds (2016) to a barn burning rendition of “Only Happy When It Rains.” Manson, in entertaining fashion, noted prior to the song “Our Love Is Doomed” that she wasn’t all that equipped to do the shiny, big pop song thing. “You see, I come from Scotland. We don’t do that in Scotland. In America, people ‘pass away.’ In Scotland…they die.”
Manson was not at all comical when it came to recent news of President Donald Trump’s decision to not let transgender people serve in the military. Garbage is beloved in the LGBTQ community and Manson’s anger, in particular, let the audience know it. “After these people have served and died to protect your freedoms, you would do this? How f***ing dare you.”
It was a moment of sincere rage, as befitting a concert run subtitled “The Rage and Rapture Tour,” but that’s not to say Manson was that heavy throughout the whole performance. She was near giddy when she spoke of being on the road with Debbie Harry, someone she considers a role model. She further included in that small category Patti Smith and Chrissy Hynde from The Pretenders. Manson then revealed that aspects of the Garbage song “Special” were direct tributes to Hynde’s band, and was gratified that when the band faxed (“Faxed! Remember when we thought the fax machine was such amazing technology!”) a permission request to Hynde to interpolate lines from “Talk of the Town” and was greeted with an effusive affirmative.
Manson will always get the lion’s share of the attention, but Garbage is much more than her. Butch Vig, Duke Erikson, and Steve Marker commanded attention with the electric “Vow” and the elegant “The World Is Not Enough” and reaffirmed why this group — in this configuration — has thrived when so many of their contemporaries have movedon to other ventures.
And then it was time for the Queen Bee herself to take the stage. With a crowd-pleasing mix of hits and a few tracks from Blondie’s brand new record Pollinator (2017) such as the Johnny Marr-penned “My Monster,” Debbie Harry and company dispelled naysayers. She strolled onto the stage with sunglasses, spangled insect-antennae tiara, and a cape which read on the back, “Stop F***ing The Planet,” and immediately kicked in the one-two puch of “One Way Or Another” and “Hanging On The Telephone.” Later in the set, Harry would remove the cape to reveal an outfit resembling a bee’s thorax, in part to coincide with the new album’s art by designer Shephard Fairey, but also to make a statement. (Harry stated that because of chemical use and climate change, the world’s bee populations are being decimated, and while that sounds trivial at the outset, it must be said that without pollinators, it’s harder and more expensive to grow food. Does she have your attention now?)
Fans got the songs they hoped for, and then some. It sometimes can be forgotten what hitmakers the band was through the years, but everyone knew from the opening microseconds of “Call Me” and “Heart of Glass” what was coming. Eat To The Beat’s standout “Atomic” got a muscular workout, and the encore presented “The Tide Is High” and “Dreaming.”
Aside from Harry, this version of Blondie was up to the challenge, starting with the ubiquitous Chris Stein on guitar. Leigh Foxx on bass held the rhythm in check, and Matt Katz-Bohen on keyboards made a few trips away from his rig to work the keytar, rock’s third-most disrespected instrument. Tommy Kessler provided breathtaking guitar leads and a theatrical solo, culminating with a behind-the-head shred-fest.
But credit must go where it is due. Offering a spirited middle-finger to all of his 61 years, Clem Burke tore through not one, but two drum solos, and proved decisively why programmed beats cannot hope to replace what a tremendous drummer can do to an audience. There is no comparison.
The individual original members of Blondie have partied in the past, and no, they’re not in their teens anymore. It would be disingenuous to not take note of this. But again and again, even when there was the occasional nod to what can no longer be duplicated as it was in 1981, the band pushed through with constant energy and desire to entertain, which is exactly what they did. There’s a special thrill to seeing anyone, but particularly artists who get lumped into the “legacy” crowd, vault past expectations of easing it down and chilling it out, and instead grabbing “carpe diem” by the throat to give it a shake. Much as is identified in the mid-set showpiece “Rapture,” Blondie still has the capacity to bring the punk rock.
Photos courtesy of Holly Fennick