Blondie/Garbage @ The Mann

Last Wednesday, August 2nd, Blondie and Garbage brought their Rage and Rapture Tour, which Shirley Manson fittingly referred to as, “the best summer camp ever,” to the Mann Center, in Fairmount Park.  And although neither band are exactly in their prime (Debbie Harry turned 72 last month and Butch Vig – Garbage’s drummer and producer of Nirvana’s Nevermind, Sonic Youth’s Dirty, The Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, and pretty much every other “90s” record my students at Temple University are familiar with – celebrated his 62nd onstage that very night), for all of those who spent their angsty ‘90s youths going to hear Garbage’s synth-laced androgynous alt rock at the TLA, or those post-punks lining the walls of the Chestnut Cabaret in the early ‘80s to hear Blondie’s exceptionally sassy brand of New Wave, it was an exceptionally special way for us to honor the particular pop icons to whom our grown, but-still-weird, asses owe our lives.  And although many of us (especially Garbage’s contingent) avoid summer sheds like the plague, this was more than worth the chance to pay our respects… and have our best dance parties of the summer (even if we might not be willing to admit that around Johnny Brenda’s or Boot & Saddle).

The Mann Center seemed to be filled to about half its 14,000-capacity for each band’s 75-minute set.  Blondie’s closing set – the high point of the evening, dance-party-wise – included a handful of songs from their recently released Pollinator LP, including “My Monster” (penned by Johnny Marr) and “Long Time” (co-penned by Dev Hynes/Blood Orange), although it was disco-tinged classics like “Heart of Glass,” “Atomic,” and “Rapture” that, predictably and rightfully, got the evening’s biggest responses.  And although, at 32, I’ve finally gotten over 40+ year-old acts playing “greatest hits” sets, I was kind of hoping to hear 1978 UK power pop smash hit “Sunday Girl” (arguably their best song) and criminally-underrated 1999 comeback single, “Maria.”  But, I think the fact that Blondie still maintain three founding members (Debbie Harry Chris Stein, and Clem Burke) – more than you can say about nearly any other still-existing C.B.G.B.s band – more than makes up for any personal song preferences we could have.

And while the musical highlight of the night had Blondie edging out Garbage by a narrow margin, the performance highlight award has to go to Ms. Manson, the obvious heir to Harry’s throne who, even at 50, still navigates a mega-stage better than nearly any of her twentysomething peers.  In an uber-sparkly silver mini dress, Manson spent about 1/8th of her set flailing about the stage’s floor and about 1/8th of their set traipsing across the ledge of the orchestra box and into the audience, all while never looking like less of a pin-up or sounding like less of a rock star than… well, Debbie Harry… Although to many longtime fans it seemed as though the set contained an abundance of new songs (which isn’t really true, with only three song from 2016’s Strange Little Birds and recent non-album single “No Birds” opening the show), the set was chock-full of ‘90s mega-hits, like “Stupid Girl,” “Push It,” “Special,” and possibly the most profoundly poignant pop song of the era (challenging Smashing Pumpkins’ “Zero”), “Only Happy When it Rains.”  ‘90s soundtrack hits “#1 Crush” and “The World is Not Enough” also made relatively major splashes.  However, the top highlights of their set came off of their popularly-and-critically-underrated 2001 album, beautifulgarbage, with the painfully infectious queer anthem “Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!),” which documents the fabulously engaging exploits of an underage, transvestite, truck stop hooker, and “Cup of Coffee,” their most tragic ballad, that I’m pretty sure led to and saved me from my breakup with HS Bae…