Blondie, Garbage, Sky Ferreira
July 9, 2017
In 2017, a band fronted by a strong woman shouldn’t be a novelty — and it isn’t, but there simply aren’t enough of them. Thankfully some of the best are still gracing stages showing everybody how it’s done. Last night, Blondie and Garbage brought their Rage & Rapture tour to the Hollywood Bowl, and it was everything fans could have hoped for, from the set list to the sound to the visual spectacle.
This tour has featured different artists opening for the two iconic groups (the Santa Barbara show earlier in the week featured L.A. legends X, another band with a spirited female up front). The Hollywood date featured a relative (compared to the headliners) newcomer in the opening slot, L.A.-based singer Sky Ferreira — though many didn’t get to see much of her set due to increased security measures at the Bowl on Sunday that delayed entry. From what I caught of the set, Ferreira brought a defiantly raw, lo-fi vibe to the stage. Her synth-pop vibes and passionate vocals were intriguing but somewhat dwarfed by the venue, as well as the daylight (and heat) and lack of production. Maybe that was the point, though. Opening for two of the most commanding bands in rock in Los Angeles’ most legendary venue had to be daunting, but Ferreira did her thing, her way. Though she has been known for injecting both theatricality and sensuality into her material, she offered little drama or movement onstage Sunday, letting her emotive vocals take the lead — which worked especially well on her cover of ’Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry,” a smart nod to the Gen X–heavy crowd.
The occasion of three generations of badass women taking the stage wasn’t lost on anybody — especially Shirley Manson, who made a point of it. Manson is one of rock’s most candid performers, and she’s not afraid to gush, complain or really say anything (the band’s last big L.A. concert at the Greek was plagued by production problems, and I think the audience is what got her through it). Her honesty and desire to connect makes watching the band feel almost interactive, and on Sunday, it felt like a celebration as she shared her admiration for Ferreira, her bandmates, the venue (it was apparently Garbage’s first time playing the Bowl — or, as the Scottish singer put it, they “broke their hymen” there last night) and, most important, for the women who inspired her, including Debbie Harry and The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde. Manson even brought out another great frontwoman, Inara George from The Bird and the Bee and The Living Sisters, for a duet, which she referred to as a moment to “get dark” musically.
Of course, part of Garbage’s appeal is their dark side. From Butch Vig’s intricate drum rhythms and moody production to Manson’s provocative lyricism, the band’s ominous musicality — well highlighted in their videos — remains potent, even after 20 years in the business. While a lot of what makes them special happens in the studio, they’re a great live band, too, especially when Manson is feeling really animated, as she was last night, moving, dancing and crawling about the stage in a shimmering tunic and fishnets. She was really fun to watch. That said, some of the arrangements and tempo changes they tried at the Bowl didn’t work as well as others. “#1 Crush," for example, lost something in a heavier, slower-burning rendition than on record. Highlighting older hits alongside newer stuff, the set overall was seamless and seductive.
Owning the stage like the queen bee she is, Debbie Harry took the vibrancy Manson brought out and kicked it up a notch, emerging with Blondie in a crystal-encrusted bug mask designed by her friend Michael Schmidt. It provided a wacky and wonderful visual to the opening numbers, mega-hits “One Way or Another” and “Telephone,” both of which filled the Bowl with joy. The current Blondie lineup (Harry's co-founders Chris Stein on guitar and Clem Burke on drums, along with Leigh Foxx on bass, Tommy Kessler on guitar and Matt Katz-Bohen on keyboards) is not only formidable, it’s a fully faceted band, with old and new members complementing one another on all the hits and as backing to Harry’s vocals.
Generally I don’t think noting a performer’s age is relevant, but it's worth pointing out that Harry is 72 — and watching her, you’d never know it. Her voice may not be what it once was, but she hit even the higher notes (called for on “Dreaming” and “Rapture” for example) pretty well. When she didn’t hit them, she made sassy little inflections, which added a sort of sexy nonchalance to her singing style. Basically she worked it, especially on the famous rap portion of “Rapture.”
Like Manson, Harry is a performer who understands that the visuals are important but conveying more through the music — vulnerability, attitude, zeal — is what makes all the difference, and is what's likely to inspire future music artists. As last night's giddy convergence made clear, Blondie's and Garbage's success and longevity lie not only in the charisma of their respective frontwomen but in the whole package — stellar musicianship, catchy material that's anything but cookie-cutter, and timeless themes everyone can relate to.
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