Kew The Music: Garbage – Live Review

 Kew The Music. All photos taken by Matt Dobbie Kew The Music. All photos taken by Matt Dobbie

‘Kew The Music’ is a yearly series of ‘picnic concerts’ that takes place in London’s Kew Gardens. A ‘picnic concert’ is exactly what it sounds like – they’re shows you can bring (or even pre-order) a picnic hamper along to, allowing you to kick back and enjoy the music being played in front of you.  Previous line-ups have seen headline sets from acts such as Simply Red, Mary J. Blige, Steps and Boyzone, amongst many others. 2019’s line-up has seen the likes of Billy Ocean, Lewis Capaldi and Rick Astley take to the stage – all of these acts that I’m sure you can imagine lend themselves well to the idea of a ‘picnic concert’. Amongst this year’s line-up, however, there was an act that stuck out like a sore thumb – in fact they stick out a fair amount even among all the line-ups from previous years – 90’s Alt-Rock favourites, Garbage.

So then, how did Garbage fare in a reasonably posh concert series that’s been predominantly headlined by Pop acts over the years? Astronomically well, it turns out!

Before we get to the music, though, I really do just want to touch on Kew Gardens itself. I’d never been to Kew Gardens, but after just walking through to get to the arena yesterday, the thought of visiting again even without the promise of live music is tantalising to me. The walk through the park from the Victoria Gate entrance is genuinely beautiful, and it felt quite weird knowing I was going to watch a band in amongst all the trees and greenery. It added something of a relaxed atmosphere to the whole proceeding, I can honestly say it felt secluded in a really peaceful way. It’s nice to find a place like this in London. I’d heartily recommend it just for a day to get away from the hustle and bustle.

The arena itself is obviously a more open space, but even still, trees and flora punctuate the outskirts of the area. It’s a little bit crazy to be amongst it all whilst enjoying live music, but after this one show it’s become something I want to experience more of in a gig environment. As far as the crowd gathered for the night’s events, it was a far more reserved, dressed up and older crowd than I’d have expected. The previous 2 times I’ve seen Garbage in more typical gig venues, the crowd has been much more as expected – T-shirts and jeans and a mix of ages. Perhaps these people were here more for the experience than the bands, but either way it was a calm but great atmosphere to be a part of. The majority of the arena was filled with families and friends on blankets alongside their picnic hampers, with an area in front of the stage barriered off for anyone who wanted to stand and be part of the crowd – I, of course, fell into this category.

The support acts were Du Blonde and Sleeper – I unfortunately missed Du Blonde, but I did catch the last few songs of Sleeper who the crowd appeared to be very excited for. I can’t say I recognised any of the songs I heard, but they sounded good, and I was informed they were a big part of the Britpop movement in the 90’s, which makes sense.

Garbage took the stage at 8:45PM and roared out of the gates, seeing big hitters ‘#1 Crush’ and ‘Stupid Girl’ played with great aplomb within the first 3 songs! The whole setlist, in fact, was punctuated perfectly, with moments of calm arriving at great times between the otherwise incredibly energetic body of the set. A good chunk of the set was songs taken from the band’s sophomore album, ‘Version 2.0’, something I was very happy about as I hadn’t been able to get along to any of the album’s 20th anniversary shows last year – these songs were superb, with the album’s lead single ‘Push It’ proving to be the absolute highlight of the show for me (and honestly, it was likely my live highlight of 2019 so far!).

18 songs were packed into the 1 hour and 30 minutes set time, and so of course there were some songs that weren’t played, fan favourites such as ‘Queer’ and ‘Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)’, for example – or my personal favourite, ‘Supervixen’. But did this matter? Well, for me – not at all. Of course, I’m likely the minority in this case, and an arena full of (perhaps) more casual fans may have been a little more disappointed in not hearing their favourites – but when you get a show as good as you got yesterday, I really think the setlist shouldn’t matter as much.

Unfortunately, regular drummer (and producer extraordinaire) Butch Vig wasn’t appearing on this tour due to a surgery following a torn rotator cuff. I’ve now seen Garbage 3 times, and 2 of those times Butch hasn’t been there for a medical reason, which is a shame. The rest of the band, however, were front and centre and maybe even taking his absence in their stride. They appeared to be having a great time up on stage, none more so than Shirley herself! Shirley is something of a force of nature on stage, she spends portions between singing either marching or prowling around the stage as if marking her territory. Vocally, she’s still sounding brilliant, and when she steps to the mic between songs to talk to the audience, everyone is held on every word she speaks. It’s probably cliché to say this, but she simply oozes charisma, and the joy you can clearly see in her whilst she’s on stage is incredibly infectious. The biggest thing I take away every time I see Garbage is just how much Shirley loves being up there, chuckling to herself whilst talking, smiling whenever she listens to the crowd singing her words back to her. She’s brilliant!

Shirley made no secret of the fact that it will likely be a while before we next get to see Garbage again. Thankfully, after a show as brilliant as the one they played in Kew Gardens, I can guarantee that when they do finally return, it will have been more than worth the wait. And hey – if you’ve never really listened to Garbage before, please do so. You won’t be disappointed!

By Matt Dobbie

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