Review: Shirley Manson, Debbie Harry are iconic as ever as Garbage and Blondie rock a sold-out Hard Rock Live in Orlando

Truly one of the most exciting double-bills of the summer.

Deborah Harry has been one of the most prominent and influential female rock artists for a very long time. Since her inception as the lead singer of hip downtown New York City band Blondie in the mid-1970’s, Harry’s look, attitude, strength and aura have played a major role in giving women all over the world the courage and the guts to get out on a stage with a microphone or a guitar and express themselves. As a glowing example of someone who has proudly walked in Debbie’s footsteps is Shirley Manson, lead singer extraordinaire of the 90’s alternative rock band, Garbage.

In what’s billed as the “Rage And Rapture” tour, a co-headlining tour that features both Blondie and Garbage, both women get to show a roomful of fans what they’re all about and exactly why there are both still highly relevant. And that’s exactly what they did, in grand style, on Wednesday night at Orlando’s Hard Rock Live for a packed, sold-out house.

Taking the stage after a brief set from female California duo Deap Vally, Garbage was instantly greeted with a thunderous ovation. Manson was no doubt the modern equivalent to Harry’s strong, evocative and sensual aura for many who came of age at the time of her rise to fame and, by looking at many in attendance, it’s clear that they’ve remained loyal to the Scottish dynamo and her Wisconsin-based band. It’s hard at first to determine what it is about Shirley Manson that’s so engaging: her flame-red locks, her undeniable style, her attitude, her beauty, her ownership of a rock and roll stage, her air — hell, it’s all those things and more. Plenty more.

Sporting a silver, shiny lame mini-dress, printed tights and boots, Manson was stunning before she’d even opened her mouth. And when she did…she let her true gift take center stage. Shifting from sexy coos to forceful yearns, Manson sounded downright in command for the duration of Garbage’s intoxicating 75-minute set. The band sounded crisp, clear and mighty as it churned through its unique blend of electro-pop and crunchy rock for the duration of a set that could have easily gone on much longer if the electrified audience had its say.

Whether stomping around in circular patterns while warbling her angst-ridden lines, or addressing the front row with one foot propped up on a monitor, contorting herself or breaking out into kung fu moves, Manson comes across as a determined soul with a mission to deliver. And she means business. Standing splay-legged on at the center of the massive stage and belting a powerful, relevant tune like “Sex Is Not The Enemy” (from 2005’s Bleed Like Me album), it’s difficult to not love yet sort of fear Shirley Manson a little bit. She’s a small-framed, petite Scottish woman but onstage, she’s a roaring giant of talent and charisma. And the love for admiration she elicits increases by leaps and bounds when she takes the time in between numbers to speak. Manson addressed the long-time, loyal fanbase Garbage has retained that she’s eternally grateful for. She expressed her fierce support for LBGTQ rights (“History is on your side! We will all resist,” she declared), and her stance on the importance of women in rock while taking a moment to salute the evening’s headliners: “Blondie..they are true icons in the history of rock and roll,” she gushed. And the crowd roared. Again.

Whether wooing the audience through the dark, moodiness of “Even Though Our Love Is Doomed” or lifting them up with the catchy pop of “Special,” it’s obvious that Shirley Manson and Garbage have quite an arsenal of tricks and hooks that make them one of the truly original and exciting bands to emerge from their era and remain relevant.

The slinky bassline and the guitar crunch of the recognizable hit “Stupid Girl” were exquisite and they gave way to the razor-sharp back-to-back barrage of set-ending knockouts “Only Happy When It Rains,” “Push It” and “Vow”.

All this, and we still had Blondie to look forward to.

On a personal note, Blondie is a band I’ve loved since I was a tweenager. Blondie was my gateway for punk rock and new wave, the music I’d come to love and respond to with the greatest devotion and the music that would shape who I’d become. So, to see this band (which I’ve remained loyal to and followed fervently since the late 70s) in concert again remains a thrill. Blondie’s relevance can’t be overstated and its induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006 is well-deserved.

That’s why it’s so satisfying to see the band out on the road in support of its strongest album in years, Pollinator. The record is a delightful pastiche of pop, electronica, experimentalism, and rock and it truly shows the many colors of this legendary band. And Blondie’s performance did plenty to uphold their stature.

Opening with the fierce rock of paranoiac smash “One Way Or Another,” Deborah Harry looked and sounded great. Sporting a black mini-skirt, flowing jacket, shades and bee hive-like horns on her head, the 72-year old veteran looked divine. Her sex appeal, coyness, charm and pizzazz are still unparalleled. As an advocate for the “Save The Bees” movement (hence, the title of the latest album and the portion of t-shirt sales going to the organization as noted at the venue’s merch table), Harry sported a cape with the words “Stop Fucking The Planet” emblazoned on it and proudly marched around to ensure that the words were read.

But the true attraction was the music; an 85-minute set that consisted of plenty of the hits that have made Blondie mega-stars around the globe for decades plus some newer selections that really shone in a live setting (most notably the Johnny Marr-penned rocker “My Monster”). The band sounded energized during the newer stuff but put plenty into the earlier material as well. Band founder Chris Stein’s sizzling guitar solo at the close of faux rap hit “Rapture” brought new legs and new life to the tune and made it rock. Unshakable and steadfast drummer Clem Burke is the chugging train that keeps the Blondie sound going, through. His smashing of the skins and his solid backbeats never fail or falter and, on this night, like always, he was in perfect form.

Harry was engaging and energetic and strutted around the stage like the true star she is. She tackled a throbbing, bass-heavy read on Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” and turned it into a spirited sing-along just as gingerly as she did with the sparkling version of the explosive disco-tinged “Atomic.”

Speaking of disco, an appropriate addition to the performance of Blondie’s best known foray into the genre, 1979’s “Heart of Glass,” was the use of the massive mirrored disco ball hanging from the venue’s ceiling. As the audience danced feverishly to the anthem, Harry moved and shimmied along with them for the dazzling performance of the band’s signature song.

A well-deserved encore brought a sexy, swaying version of the band’s cover of the reggae classic, “The Ride Is High” as well as a razor-sharp reading of new wave classic, “Dreaming”.

In what’s probably the best and most entertaining double bill to hit the tour circuit in a long time, this show proved that Shirley Manson, Debbie Harry and their respective bands still rock and are still wildly relevant…and that’s not gonna change as long as these two stupendous woman are out there making a difference on a rock and roll stage.  

Gabe Echazabal

I was born on a Sunday Morning.I soon received The Gift of loving music.Through music, I Found A Reason for living.It was when I discovered rock and roll that I Was Beginning To See The Light.Because through music, I'm Set Free.It's always helped me keep my Head Held High.When I started dancing to that fine, fine...
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