When Tears for Fears took the Leader Bank Pavilion stage on Wednesday, they came armed with one thing that a band of its vintage and history typically has in its possession and one thing that it almost never does. The first was a sturdy catalog of hits and deep-cut favorites. The second was a new album full of songs that Tears for Fears fans could actually listen to for enjoyment, rather than out of grim obligation to nostalgia. The ‘80s survivors were that rare combination, a legacy act that still has something to say.
And they said it with energy and focus, as well as a patience that fed back into those two things. Songs like “No Small Thing,” “Woman in Chains,” and the delicate, lushly arranged “Rivers of Mercy” were slow burns, taking their time but never failing to blossom eventually. The deliberately-paced “Badman’s Song” was practically art-rock in scope and structure, like mid-period Traffic. Even concert closer “Shout” began scaled down two clicks, from preacher-on-a-mountaintop to preacher-on-a-street-corner, before imperceptibly growing to full strength by the end of its instrumental interlude.
That diligence also paid off in the strength of the material from this year’s “The Tipping Point,” which landed with the conviction of purpose, whether it was the bright shudders of “Break the Man” or the horror-movie imagery of an unstoppable, indefinable malevolent force in the chilly and mechanical title track. Guitarist Roland Orzabal’s dark, electronically-tinged shuffle “My Demons” was a great, sharp addition to future setlists, while “Long, Long, Long Time” was sympathetic and vulnerable, with bassist Curt Smith’s time-tightened voice easily selling the desperation.
Smith held onto that intensity for “Mad World” and the quivering “Pale Shelter,” while Orzabal pulled off an impassioned monotone for the gloriously overstuffed Beatles pastiche of “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” a three-decade-old song looking back another two decades. And just like the piano intro of “Head Over Heels” that felt a cascade from the heavens, Tears for Fears played it with a freshness that belied its, and their, age.
As a headliner in its own right, Garbage was afforded the luxury of a full hour for an opening set that took the small, electronics-enhanced subtleties of its recorded work and fused them into a solid churn on stage. Singer Shirley Manson remained a singular figure, fierce and confident even when botching her part of the electro-disco “Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)” for the second time in two tries. The band toyed with its material, swapping out the “Train In Vain” backbone of “Stupid Girl” for a throbbing “I Feel Love” one, turning the first verse of “Only Happy When It Rains” into dark cabaret, and pulling back on the aggression to make “Special” more melody-forward. Even so, the glam swing of “Wicked Ways” and tension-expelling chorus of “Push It” charged forward with abandon.
TEARS FOR FEARS
With Garbage. At Leader Bank Pavilion, Wednesday
Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.