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Crocus City Hall 
By Martin Richardson
Too many visiting acts pitch up in Moscow on yet another cash-in tour; heavily changed line-ups, old songs only, and an audience which quietly dreads hearing anything recorded this century. This plays into the culture of a city which is keen to consume, yet not always sure how to do it. Music becomes a label, a trademark; once a song gets the seal of approval it cannot go wrong, just as a designer brand redeems even the ghastliest of sartorial errors (especially and including ones involving the emblazonment of said brand over the garments in question). This is why Russia’s domestic music scene, in the words of one critics, is aggressively opposed to generating new stars: from Bilan to Baskov, the mainstream relies on heavy rotation of a narrow, approved playlist where even the quirky outsiders (think Zemfira, think Mumy Troll) are licensed court jesters. And it’s why too many audiences here are more comfortable looking to the past when exploring music from across Russia’s many borders. A certain cultural herd mentality inspires concert bookers to play safe, hire the fossilized remains of bands still capable of karaoke-ing their greatest hits from the hypothetical good old days when foreign cool could be defined simply in terms of not being Bad Boys Blue.

Amid the nostalgia, therefore, it’s a relief to hear a real, active band – one which combines longevity with a past it actually believes in. And that’s exactly what Garbage brought to Moscow at the start of the promo-tour for its new album, “Not your kind of people”. It’s been a long wait – seven years all told – and some might argue it’s been even longer since the blazing arrival of Shirley Manson as the thinking man’s rock goddess in the “Stupid Girl” / “Happy when it rains” era of the mid-90s. Back then, angst was real angst, and Manson stood tall as a ball-breaking battle-axe easily capable of sending the average timid emo-kid to scuttle behind mummy’s sofa until the scary people went away. A mid-career dip led to the just-ended hiatus, and prompted fears that the return to action might be little more than a chance to sing along to the old favorites with merely a fig-leaf of new material to be quickly dumped early in the set when half the crowd is parking their cars, topping up their drinks and not really paying attention.

Happily, Garbage bucks the stereotype. Not only is the band back, it is happy to be so and has produced new material which it clearly believes in. No dutiful contract fulfillment; the 2012 edition is self-released, with the band calling the shots and going back to its archetypal indie-rock, buzzy guitar sound. “Dirty Little Secret” is even billed as the new “Stupid Girl”, with Manson talking up the new songs as enthusiastically as the band’s calling card is discarded early in the show. Maybe it’s a lack of familiarity – on behalf of both band and audience – but the grand claim isn’t quite justified yet. If “Stupid Girl” snarls across the stage with a kind of juddering, throbbing bass that calls to mind something akin to an alt-rock take on the shuddering shock Giorgio Moroder applied to the more sensitive parts of the musical world, “Dirty Little Secret” is still a whisker too polite. But the potential is there, and by the end of tour one suspects it could grow up to be a monster.

There’s an engaging freshness about the other new tracks which get an airing: “I hate love”, “Blood for Poppies” and “Battle in me” all have plenty to recommend them beyond novelty alone, and it’s little surprise to see advance copies of the new release doing a brisk trade in the foyer both before and after the show. That old illuminating darkness remains intact for the new songs, and they in turn dovetail well with the old ones.

Despite a sometimes glacial public image, Manson is happy to talk to her crowd. Between songs we hear of long-lost cousins flying all the way to Moscow to hear the band for the first time. A protracted retuning break prompts a mock-exasperated “no wonder it took us seven years to record an album”, while returning to theme of passing time also brings a seemingly heartfelt endorsement of how much the band enjoyed the 2005 concerts in Russia. Long-time Moscow residents can reflect for themselves on how much has changed since then, and how much remains the same; for the crowd, asked what has changed, what adventures they’d enjoyed, the response was a gallows humor cry of ‘Putin won!’. But if the return to the Kremlin sparks fears of stagnation and another airing for 12 years of accumulated Greatest Hits, the return of Garbage offers a whiff of an accomplished project continuing to develop itself anew.

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