Let the women lead and get the hell out of their way.
Three powerful ladies took charge of a sold-out Mystic Lake Casino Showroom on Friday night: Blondie’s Debbie Harry, Garbage’s Shirley Manson, and X’s Exene Cervenka. The inimitable rock icons not only inspired young fans in the crowd but also reminded old timers how necessary women’s voices are to the future of rock ‘n’ roll – and the cultural advancement of the world.
Exene and her X cohort John Doe started the night with an all-too-brief 25 minute acoustic set. Their stripped down versions of punk rabble rousers “White Girl,” “Skin Deep Town,” and “The New World” were all still as potent and incisive as their original versions. (Though if you're craving the ferocity of their old sound, be sure to catch X –with all four original members – at First Avenue in September as part of their 40th anniversary tour.)
Garbage's moody, atmospheric 75-minute set blended recent songs (“Empty,” “Blackout,” “Even Though Our Love Is Doomed,” and brand new single “No Horses,” which started off their show) with the mercurial '90s jams that brought them to fame (“Queer,” “I Think I’m Paranoid,” “Stupid Girl,” and “Only Happy When It Rains”). Throughout the performance Manson stalked the stage in tense circles, enticing the crowd like a goth anti-cheerleader who's hoping both sides lose.
Manson (resplendent in a sparkling sequined gown) was genuinely complimentary and appreciative of the opportunity to play alongside the punk legends on the bill. “We come to work everyday and we’re surrounded by gods and goddesses,” Manson said. “We’re living proof that if four nerds like us can get on stage with this caliber of acts, then all of us can do anything with our lives.”
Guitarist Steve Marker, bassist Duke Erickson, and drummer Butch Vig locked into a textured, ominous groove throughout the show. The group brought a sinister edge to the obsession-driven “#1 Crush” and a vibrant churn to “Special,” which Manson dedicated to her longtime inspiration, the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, and to a woman in the crowd who was at her 50th Garbage show. The music was so dark and gloomy that it coaxed an actual bat out of the rafters, catching the attention and concern of much of the audience as it flew around the venue during the remainder of the show.
Manson told a story of getting to meet legendary composer David Arnold in London, where he asked her, “What are you doing in a couple months? Want to sing a Bond theme?” Of course her answer was yes, and the band then offered up the result of their creative collaboration, “The World Is Not Enough.” Manson really appeared to lose herself entirely within the songs at this point, encouraging women everywhere to keep their “shields up” during “Stupid Girl,” and letting her hair cover her face as she hung her head and sang the saturnine opening of “Only Happy When It Rains” while sitting on Vig’s drum riser. And during set closer “Vow” she was completely splayed out on the stage, offering herself up as a sacrifice to the hard-earned lessons at the tempestuous heart of the song. It was a stunning, unguarded moment from a band that has shared so much of themselves through their music over the years.
Blondie’s 75-minute set struck an artful, rocking balance between the band’s new wave roots and their inspired new record, Pollinator. Debbie Harry took to the stage wearing a headpiece adorned with bees and a cape emblazoned with the blunt command, “Stop Fucking The Planet” – a message that admittedly rang a bit hollow in the middle of a sprawling, neon-drenched casino surrounded by thousands of parked cars.
But the music rang out loud and true, with Harry, two of her original Blondie bandmates – guitarist Chris Stein and drummer Clem Burke – and three additional musicians adding some punch to their classics while reminding everyone that they're still producing music that's socially relevant and catchy as hell.
“Yes, Minneapolis,” Harry announced to a crowd made up mostly of Twin Cities music fans. “We all sort of feel that we could live here. Chris wants to live in Prince’s house. We took the tour today. We know how to have fun.” Old black and white footage culled from Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party filled the screens behind the band as they tore through “Fun,” followed by a rousing take on their biggest hit, “Call Me,” which still sounds as urgent and insistent as it did when it was released in 1980.
“As you may know, we are dedicating our attention and some of our profits to the bees,” Harry explained, “And we get a lot of bee related gifts from our fans. But we’d rather that you give your money and your time to, you know, the bees.” In addition to bringing attention to the current plight of the worldwide bee population, Blondie’s new album, Pollinator, offers plenty of cross-pollination – the band worked with TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, the Strokes' Nick Valensi, Sia, Joan Jett, Dev Hynes, Charli XCX, and Johnny Marr, who wrote the new track, “My Monster,” which was played early in the set.
After a raucous version of “Rapture,” Blondie launched into a rollicking take on “Rainy Day Women #12 & #35,” which somebody had just named Bob Dylan’s worst song earlier in the day.
A pulsating version of “Atomic” led into a series of perfect pop songs that closed the show, with “Heart of Glass” and the exquisite “Dreaming” highlighting not just Blondie's songwriting prowess but their ultra-cool, always stylish stage performance. These are hits that have found a home on all ends of the radio dial, and the full room of adoring fans singing blissfully along have taken these songs directly into their hearts as well.
The women were clearly in charge on Friday night, and we were all better off because of it. Long live these queens.
Click here to see a photo slideshow of Blondie and Garbage at Mystic
I Think I’m Paranoid
Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)
Bleed Like Me
Even Though Our Love Is Doomed
The World Is Not Enough
Only Happy When It Rains
One Way Or Another
Hanging on the Telephone
Rainy Day Women #12 & #35 (Bob Dylan cover)
Heart Of Glass
The Tide Is High
More from Music