(Full disclosure: If at any point during last night's Garbage show firebomb redhead Shirley Manson would have leaned into the sold-out crowd, pointed at yours truly and ordered me to rob the nearest Nationsbank with just a banana and my good looks, I would have not only said yes, but brayed like a jackass while sprinting for the Yellow Pages. There, just thought I'd get that off my chest before continuing with this unbiased review...)
Producer/drummer Butch Vig, the Sara Lee of modern rock & roll, may be the chief reason for Garbage's confectious pop thump, but the Scottish Manson, with her smeared lipstick, dizzying eyes and salacious vocals, is the sole reason for the band's mega-selling success. Her come-ons are irresistible, her put-downs seething, and when rumors spread that she often performs sans underpants, well, that just showed what a fine promoter she was, too.
Packed into a blood-red (mini) mini-skirt and a snug, sleeveless white blouse, Manson bounded onto the 9:30 Club stage almost a minute after her band had revved up the intro to first-single "Push It." For the ninety-plus exhausting minutes that followed her entrance, you couldn't take your eyes off her; she was all parts randy, angry, vindictive, hurt. Yeah, you try looking away.
As if Manson's presence wasn't distracting enough -- she's never still: always jumping, bumping, grinding, posing -- the band was backlit with myriad multicolor lights, from glaring spots to blinding strobes. And with a state-of-the-art sound system that was both heart-attack loud and crystal clear (thank the perfectionist Vig for that blessing), Garbage, as an experience, was a full-throttle sensual attack, a technofied sexual nightmare with a blissfully happy ending.
For as wild and unhinged as Manson seems in our overworked imaginations (OK, my overworked imagination), the band as a whole -- both in the studio and on the stage -- is efficient and well-packaged, almost to a fault. Without taking much of a breather, Garbage packed nineteen songs into the set, mixing most of their 1995 self-titled debut with a good portion of superglossy sophomore effort Version 2.0. "Push It" was followed by the new "Dumb," a hard, unnerving tune about long nights and bad sex, and the band's first big hit, "Queer."
"Special," one of the evening's many highlights, is an ode to hero Chrissie Hynde (although despite the compliment, the Queen Pretender was reportedly none too pleased about the use of some of her lyrics); the beat was breakneck and mean, but Manson smeared dreamy la-la-las over the frenzy. For Version 2.0's industrialized "Hammering in My Head," a furious song about, well, long nights but good sex, the frontwoman prowled the stage pleading with her listeners to "Sweat it all out! Sweat it all out!" (Jesus, doesn't she ever let up?)
Garbage closed the set with a string of hits (and those soon-to-be), including "Stupid Girl," "#1 Crush," the new "I Think I'm Paranoid" and signature song "Only Happy When It Rains." Manson & Co. encored with two obscure B-sides, a cover of Big Star's "Thirteen" and "Girl Don't Come," then closed the night with Version 2.0's final track, the hallucinatory "You Look So Fine." As the band stretched the song out to its thick, blurry borders, mixing samples, loops, Steve Markes' and Duke Erikson's guitars, and Manson's lush voice, it was hard to decipher what was real and what was programmed. But then again, isn't that the whole point of Garbage, anyway?