As the leader of the Dum Dum Girls (under the succinct nom de plume of Dee Dee), Kristin Gundred created a trio of records that channeled the Shangri-Las and The Jesus and Mary Chain in equal portions. But with her new project, she’s eschewed guitar noise and girl-group melodies for an aesthetic more akin to that of the Human League. On X-Communicate, her first record under the new stage name of Kristin Kontrol, she’s seemingly re-invented herself again (Gundred first found success as singer and drummer for rootsy garage rockers Grand Ole Party) as a pop artist, with synthesizers and mechanized beats being her favored backing. It largely works, no doubt as a result of her undeniable talent.
That talent was on display this week as Kristin Kontrol opened for Garbage, who hand-picked the opener, at Central Park’s Summerstage. Flanked by a pair of back-up singers and a band that included two horn players at times, she ran through most of the songs on the album. As might be expected, live tracks like “Show Me” blossomed, with the horns and live drums helping to transcend its recorded version. For her part, Gundred managed to bring a ferocity that conveyed a certain amount of conviction and gave her material an edge that helped separate it from just being ephemeral pap. “Skin Shed” was particularly striking, a mix of slinky vocals and synth hooks.
Not every track shined, however. “X-Communicate” still stands out as a sore spot, Gundred’s hysterically pitched vocals being too much to bear. But for the most part, Kristin Kontrol seemed to have won the gathering crowd over, no mean feat given that Garbage seemingly has better taste than their fans. (I spotted some questionable band t-shirts.)
As for the headliners, even without drummer and mastermind Butch Vig, it was pretty much what you would expect: a mix of the songs from their heyday that everyone wanted to hear and rarer material that drew enthusiasm from only the most ardent of fans. Admittedly, I’m only familiar with Garbage’s hits from the period that I owned my first car in the late ’90s. As that Mazda MX-6 was without a CD (or cassette) player, I was stuck listening to the local alt-rock station and got to appreciate cuts like “Stupid Girl” and “Special,” which always reminded me of The Pretenders, as they were preferable to the other, er, garbage being played.
That being said, Garbage proved themselves capable of rock cliches and overcooked bombast on their weaker (read: newer) cuts. But when they were playing the hits (“I Think I’m Paranoid,” “Only Happy When It Rains,” etc.), their set was enjoyable, if not exactly engaging. Shirley Manson is still capable of hitting every note, and her partners are obviously proficient musicians, but they didn’t make a name for themselves pushing the envelope.
As a whole, would I have been happier staying home and watching the last episode of Stranger Things? Perhaps, but there are worse things than watching live music under the stars in Central Park, no matter who it is.