Review by Rob Johnson with Photos by Rob Hadley

Let me begin with a word on the venue. Digbeth Arena is not an arena. That would be too grandiose a term for what is essentially a small space between a railway track and a old viaduct. The enclosed nature of the space acts as a natural amphitheatre that results in possibly the best sound quality I have ever heard at any gig. In short, this is a dream performance space for any artist worth their salt. In Birmingham, we are treated to three bands worth enough salt to keep the second city in fish and chips for a lifetime…

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Honeyblood are Scottish two-piece Stina Tweedale and Cat Myers. I have seen them numerous times across various Sheffield venues over the last three years, so it is a pleasure to catch them on such a unique bill, outside of my South Yorkshire comfort zone. Indeed, the band seem genuinely touched to be supporting Garbage and regularly allude to how prominent a force Shirley Manson is for any up and coming female fronted band.

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It is clear from the first chords of Love is a Disease that Honeyblood mean business with old songs such as Choker and a superb Killer Bangs rubbing shoulders with cuts from their second album including set closer Ready for the Magic. Recording of their long awaited third album is due to commence later this year. Exciting times.

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Now that I am an old, old useless man, I know what I am about in terms of music. If you can combine heartfelt lyrics with self-deprecation alongside a classic guitar driven sound – I’m all yours. Maxïmo Park (pronounced Maxeemo Park, something I am physically incapable of getting on board with) have always been one of my favourite bands and in front of an utterly enraptured Birmingham audience, it is easy to see why.

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Remember that scene in American Psycho where the psychotic Patrick Bateman is dancing around his apartment to Huey Lewis and the News? Just before he plunges an axe into Jared Leto’s head? Well, imagine dancing Patrick Bateman fronting an indie band from the North East and you come somewhere close to Paul Smith’s demented and energetic performance. Smith prowls the stage with wildly flailing limbs and eyes wide for emphasis. The music, as always, is perfect. unencumbered by a new album to promote, the band whizz through a greatest hits set taking in such indie disco classics as Graffiti, Our Velocity and Going Missing. Relatively newer tracks such as Get High (No I Don’t) and Risk to Exist are performed and received with as much gusto as anything off the bands seminal debut album and, by the end, the crowd is softly nuzzling the palm of Paul Smith’s delicate hand, having already gobbled down everything edible he has to offer. One of the best live bands in the business.

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And so, to the main event. A whole load of Garbage. Shirley Manson and her band of producers have never really fit in. Shirley Manson has more in common with her namesake Marilyn than she does with supposed britpop peers such as Noel Gallagher or Damon Albarn. The band’s music is neither American nor British, although it is certainly Scottish, in attitude if not in melody. The band are celebrating the 20th anniversary of their hugely successful sophomore album Version 2.0 and ultimately, that is what the whole evening feels like; a celebration.

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Shirley Manson is an astonishing performer, part Kate Bush, part David Bowie but always herself. Version 2.0 is performed in its entirety but not in order, with various other albums represented throughout the set as well as a trio of covers. Manson’s voice is incredible, so much so that it feels almost alien underneath the Digbeth moon. I Think I’m Paranoid and Push It sound massive of course, but it is in the more intimate moments that Manson truly proves herself as an astonishing performer. Medication is delivered beautifully and Sleep Together is every inch the Jarvis Cocker aping sleaze-fest that it is on record.

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A triumphant When I Grow Up closes out the first part of the set before Manson returns on stage to deliver an impassioned speech that touches on everything from sexism in the music industry to never forgetting your roots to Donald Trump and back again. There is a temptation to describe this kind of ad libbing as a ‘rant’ but it isn’t a fucking rant. It’s a call to arms and it’s beautiful. As Manson herself proclaims, Garbage are ‘an independent band on an independent label with an independent attitude’ and we love them for it.

The Trick is to Keep Breathing follows, leaving time for one more song. The decision to end on a cover of Bowie’s Starman when massive hits such as Stupid Girl, Queer and I’m Only Happy When It Rains are kept on the bench is a puzzling one and ends up being the night’s only misstep. This wouldn’t be a Garbage gig without at least one dumbfounding moment however and nobody can begrudge Shirley Manson and her band the ending that they so clearly believe is the most fitting.

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As they leave the stage, Manson leaves us with one last missive. ‘No matter what happens next Birmingham, you’re divine’. And you’re a Goddess Shirley.

See the complete photoset from tonight’s gig here.

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