Originally seen on Tastemakers Online, August 5, 2017
Last night was the first time in my life I wore blush: girls don’t wear makeup for boys, they wear makeup for Debbie Harry. (Boys wear makeup for Debbie Harry, too.) On this stop of the Rage and Rapture Tour I saw several pairs of icy blue lips, a pink wig, a copper satin jumpsuit – and other rapturous declarations of vivid femininity. There was at least a little leather. There was much less rage than one might expect with a tour name like that. It’s a perfectly appropriate title, but a simpler, more telling one came straight from the coral lips of Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson: “The Most Spectacular Summer Camp.”
In naming this, Manson delivers a “considered thought” – absolutely not “gushing”, as she says she’s been accused – about the privilege of touring with Blondie, and specifically Harry. The whole show played like a reel of such “considered thoughts,” especially from Manson, whose candid inter-song chats are welcoming, colloquial, unleashed, and commanding all at once. In this way, she feels even more richly herself than we’ve ever seen her before. And the band, without the studio tricks it used to so characteristically rely on, is even more her, too. In fact, as songs are stripped of their sheer studio noise and Manson roams back and forth from one side of the stage to the other (and even out into the crowd on two separate occasions), it becomes clear that Garbage shows are more than anything, a chance for her to deliver her sermon.
Instead of purring loftily as she does in the studio on “The World Is Not Enough”, she is crooning, turning, arms outstretched. She’s jerked around by the melody in passionate feints of red hair. “Even Though Our Love Is Doomed” is stripped and ethereal, and classics like “Sex Is Not the Enemy” and “I Think I’m Paranoid” gratify the crowd’s obvious desire for some pure, Garbage rock.
Blondie’s turn onstage is driven by the same quasi-solo artist ambiance, although Debbie Harry is perhaps a little more stationary, and the band a little more flamboyant. Ten seconds into their set opener, a manic rendition of “One Way Or Another,” Clem Burke is already flipping his drumstick in the air with one hand while playing fills with the other. Every so often Chris Stein steps in for a solo, and Tommy Kessler shreds proudly through every other opportunity. Just as Garbage championed the LGBTQA community as an intro to fan favorite “Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)”, Blondie played “Fun” over a dizzying montage of drag queens and club goers.
Don’t be fooled – Debbie Harry has not passed up a chance to play Queen Diva. She even enters in her bee crown (in honor of Pollinator) and a cape commanding, “STOP FUCKING THE PLANET”. Her performance feels cathartic, and she seems at home in the spotlight, her no-longer-blond hair glowing. She is wonderfully self-contained, which seems like no small task. She leads the audience in a pointed call and response: “I’m not the kind of girl who gives up just like that…Oh, no!”
The union of Garbage and Blondie was bound to be a celebration of the leading ladies of feminism in alternative pop music. Shirley Manson took a moment to acknowledge her goddaughter – a college-age attendee who happened to be beaming up at the stage just a row behind me – and I wondered how many other metaphorical daughters have adopted the pop hero as their own godmother. How many more have taken Debbie Harry as theirs? (What about their drag mother?) As a fan of Butch Vig and a lover of the group dynamic of Blondie, for a few brief moments I was almost a little dismayed to find the male instrumentalists taking a backseat to the festivities. But watching Manson drape herself over Vig; checking out Blondie keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen in his “THE FUTURE IS FEMALE” tank top – it becomes clear that it’s not just about the celebration of female excellence; it’s about participating in and supporting it. Manson says, “We don’t take this for granted.” Neither should we. May we always support ladies like these.