Butch Vig must be pissed.
It appears that this year’s SummerfestBlog is filled with throwback bullshit. Maybe it has something to do with dying last year….
Anyway, back in the mid 90’s Butch Vig was suddenly rich and in demand after the success of Nevermind. So he decided to start a new band that had little to do with grunge, and was more pop, techno, and sequencer driven with his long time collaborators. When considering vocalists, they decided they wanted a woman in the mold of Patti Smith or Chrissie Hyde, and asked Scot Shirley Manson to audition. In a common pattern, the first meetings were a debacle…
But they gave it a second and third try, and it started to gel and eventually they released the stellar debut album in 1995. I loved it from the get-go, and not just because it was local musicians; but the crunch mix of hard-alt and tech beats with exquisitely sampled beats was right in proto-zombie’s wheelhouse.
And, of all things, they stopped at Shank Hall that fall, on the start of their tour. They wanted to play low-profile shows to try out the material; there was much doubt that they could pull off the tech-heavy sound in a live setting.
And that was a worthy doubt; in Milwaukee, immediately at the start of the first song, one of the sequencers went sideways and they had to start over. But after that it was pretty damn awesome, although the entire band was visibly uncomfortable and mostly just stood there.
After a great set, they came back out for a couple of encores, and even then the crowd refused to go away. Eventually the band came back out, and said “we only have one album. We played it all. What do you want from us?” and so they played one of the songs over again….
So, all these years later and they have a new album and somehow, they wound up on a Summerfest stage. Technology has moved very far beyond 1995, and there were no glitches.
I had a lousy vantage point, and the stage was pretty damn packed. The band expressed their gratitude for the large enthusiastic crowd, and although some of the sports shout-outs smacked of pandering, Shirley at one point talked about how even though she is from Scotland, Wisconsin is like ‘coming home’ and we gave them a homecoming welcome.
The setlist tended toward the moe aggressive songs, and why not? Shirley was sporting a pale purple dye in her hair, and she twisted it up about halfway through so she could play some guitar.
The band themselves, adding an additional member on bass and guitar, were far different from that initial show all those years ago. The were dynamic, energetic, and seemed to be kind of having a great time.
After a pretty great set, they left the stage. The PA started playing regular music and the VariLites were showing their shutdown light signals. But like that small show 20 years ago, we weren’t going anywhere. And eventually, the band came back out and admitted that they were not used to doing encores, and had nothing prepared. So they played an unrehearsed song off the new album, one that was completely inappropriate for a festival: “Our Love Is Doomed”. And Shirley told us that if they screwed it up, it was our fault for being unreasonable….