Shirley Manson’s hair is even a redder-red now, tightly pulled back and stacked atop her head in an erect cylinder. She has followed the band on stage and is beaming. This smiling Scot strikes a stark contrast to the v1.0 Shirley Manson who always seemed to me more Manson than Shirley. I and the rest of the world were first introduced to Garbage back in 1995 with their pink-feathered covered self-titled debut.
It’s difficult to not feel some nostalgia standing here in this little ballpark in Madison, Wisconsin witnessing this mutli-platinum hometown band’s return to stage after a nearly seven year tour hiatus. Butch Vig’s entrance is marked with a detour across the front of the stage where he points his drum sticks crowd-ward in a “You guys are awesome” gesture.
And we are an awesome crowd. Here for the first ever Pondamonium at Warner ballpark - or as the locals fondly refer to it - The Duck Pond. The radio station DJ introducing the band (well technically introducing the dude who won a contest to introduce the band) has promised us that we’re attending the first of what will be an annual event.
It’s been raining all day, which I’ll confess gets a certain early Garbage single bouncing around in my head. Some of this rain has settled on the stage and when stagehands with towels descend to mop it up, they are called off by Manson saying that it’s really “beyond that point”. Furthermore, she says, how appropriate would it be to slip and break a neck here? “Things began here, maybe they’ll end here...” jokes Manson.
Opening with “Automatic Systematic Habit,” Garbage immediately establishes that this is not just some trip through memory lane. It’s a strong start, testing the limits of the sound system and rattling the crowd. “Paranoid” follows and assures folks that this is indeed also the Garbage of yore.
Over the next hour and a half Garbage would wind their way through their 5 album, 17-year repertoire. Playing the old, the new and the in-between with sincere effort and presence. Banter between songs includes Manson coaxing commentary out of each bandmate and many nods to their home turf (as unlikely as that may sound in Manson’s still thick Scottish accent). Garbage will always be a point of pride for Madison, and their Not Your Kind of People tour is good reminder that we can and do produce serious talent.
The Flaming Lips
Is there any more engaged and engaging festival band than the Flaming Lips? I don’t think that there is.
“Race for the Prize” launches the set with a wading, then full-on dive-in rocker which fantastically builds the crowd’s anticipation for a solid minute and a half before Wayne sings his last organ-accompanied line “...Both of them side by side/So determined,” walks to the side of the stage, grabs a confetti gun, and returns to the center of the stage aiming skyward. With a perfectly timed pull of the trigger, the colorful payload blasts the giant disco-ball above and the 15-foot video screen appears to explode. From there it’s all bright lights, billowing smoke, giant balloons (filled with more confetti of course), streamers, looped vids of naked women running and Wayne gesturing for more, more from the crowd. Everyone is bouncing and dancing and smiling. Thanks to a well-timed downpour just before their set (which sent some scattering for shelter) I’ve found my way deep into the frenzy, which is the only place to be. Get too far back and all you can see is flashing smoke like a lightning storm rolling in.
I find myself wondering about the profit margin for a five piece band with this much put into every production. While I’ve seen the screen, streamers and giant crowd-walking hamster ball before, they are always fresh and effective in igniting the crowd. As Wayne reminds us, “If you’re waiting for the party - this is it.”
Their show is constantly bizarre. The two-story video alternating from a fish-eyed microphone cam, to lyrics apparently being formed of star-dust, to hypnotic giant-eye montages to naked women running to naked woman hammering a giant cymbal. And of course there is an illuminated gong.
Often the Flaming Lips close out festivals, and it seems fitting, especially after a day in the sun drinking shandy that the F’ing Lips push it up and over the top, into the ridiculous. The giant hands come out emanating green lasers which Wayne directs at the disco ball sending literally a million points of light into the atmosphere.
As Coyne and Co. return for an encore with “Do You Realize??” I feel charged and somehow spent. These are indeed stadium-worthy bands playing in our little ballpark, and the sounds and experience won’t quickly fade. Add Pondamonium to the list of destination festivals. Madison, be proud.
Watch Wayne Coyne inflate the bubble: