In a packed house on Saturday night, two iconic bands from passed eras performed admirably in that tricky middle ground between relevance and escapism. The Debbie Harry-led Blondie and the Shirley Manson-led Garbage took the sold-out South Side Music Hall crowd of over 3,000 on a trip that felt immediate and raw, though both band's star burned brightest decades ago.
Commanding the stage with as much authority and charisma as ever, Manson owned the place the way in which she owned so many award show stages 20 years ago. When a beach ball was seen bouncing around the crowd near the stage early in the set, Manson reminded us who is still boss. "Get rid of the [expletive] beach ball!" she demanded in between lyrics, without missing a beat.
The band, including legendary record producer Butch Vig (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins) on drums were in crisp, lockstep form indicative of a group of classy pros who thrive off the energy that comes from thousands of people still showing up to see them play their songs. Instantly recognizable alt-rock radio hits such as "Number One Crush," "Special" and "I Think I'm Paranoid" were proffered in expert fashion, showing no signs of aging. A newer song, "Blackout" from the band's enjoyable, but commercially underwhelming 2016 album Strange Little Birds, was a psych-tinged epic that saw Manson dramatically crawling around the stage.
Manson admitted she might be a bit emotional since the Dallas show was the last stop of the North American leg of the Rage and Rampage tour. As menacing and moody as her lyrics often are, the Scottish vocalist offered nothing but love in between tunes, thanking the fans for decades of loyalty and dedicating "Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go)" to the LGBTQ community. Ending their set with a sing-along string of hits including "Stupid Girl," "I'm Only Happy When It Rains" and "Push," Garbage gave back to the audience everything they were receiving.
For Blondie's set, the 72-year old Harry marched out with a funky honey bee-themed hat and a cape carrying the message "Stop [expletive] The Planet." Thanks to a scorching "One Way or Another," opening the show, it was obvious from the start this was to be no casually wistful set of trophy case admiration for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers. Forty year-old favorites "Hanging on the Telephone" and "Call Me" shredded and pulsed with an urgency betraying their age, and new songs "Fun" and "Too Much" fit in perfectly. The group's new record, Pollinator, produced by noted Dallas producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Black Angels) is indeed a fine effort, complete with songs that stay true to the band's history while avoiding stale mimicry.
Though some of the higher notes were out of Harry's vocal grasp, she still held her own during the iconic songs that made Blondie one of the greatest crossover successes in rock history. This isn't an oldies act, but a trailblazing punk group that pushed sonic boundaries and demolished genre lines as well as anyone in their heyday. That range was put on display with the hit-packed, show-closing run of "Atomic," "Heart of Glass," a fantastically punk cover of Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On," "The Tide is High" and "Dreaming."
Manson and Harry are two of the past half-century's great rock stars (no, not simply female rock stars, but capital R, capital S, Rock Stars, period). In an all-too rare scenario, this sold-out show was powered by hard-earned rock stardom, and not by the number of YouTube views, or Spotify spins or disposable TMZ headlines. Though this show wasn't filled with songs lighting up the Instagram feeds of many millenials, it wasn't a vacuous memory lane trip either. Maybe Blondie and Garbage aren't any longer relevant in a strict commercial, new media way, but they're both vital in the millions of hearts they care about the most.