Garbage returns to form after long layoff

Shirley Manson possesses the I'm-the-boss-applesauce demeanor of a woman who emerged from the womb with a hand on her hip.

Forty-five years later, she's still at it, wielding her femininity like a clenched fist targeted at any jaw line within reach.

She's an alt-rock dream girl who fancies herself more of a nightmare.

"I can take you out, with just a flick of my wrist," the Garbage frontwoman purred during a show opening "Supervixen" at the Pearl on Saturday, where she both blew kisses and threw punches.

"Bow down to me," she commanded at song's end, demanding acquiescence on her band's first tour in seven years.

The crowd obliged.

What, are you going to argue with a tornado in high heels?

As such, the show felt like a return to form despite the lengthy layoff for this bunch.

Emerging in the mid-'90s at the height of the grunge era, when flannel shirts and frayed cut-off shorts formed a sort of anti-fashion aesthetic, Garbage was decidedly more debonair and sensual, both visually and sonically.

Grunge was sex-less, but Garbage was sexy, well tailored and impeccably dressed.

They served as alt-rock's libido, with Manson both embracing and slyly subverting her model-esque looks.

She was the kind of lady who would complement a short, form-fitting dress with combat boots.

"I'm not as pretty as those girls in the magazines," Manson sang during "Why Do You Love Me?" even though she very much is one of those girls in the magazines.

That song is one of Garbage's fastest and most fierce, all punk rock ballast and curled lips.

"I'm no Barbie doll," Manson howled during it, backed by heart attack guitars. "I'm not your baby girl."

If Manson has made a career out of alternately flaunting and downplaying her prettiness, you could say that her bandmates do something very similar with Garbage's electronically enhanced rock, which ranges from a digital throb to a blood rushing roar.

The band is skilled at crafting radio friendly hooks, but they deliberately scour them with dissonant guitars and pockets of noise that scruff up and add rancor to all the tightly-honed melodies.

At the Pearl, Garbage was joined by a touring bassist so that they could employ a two-guitar attack, resulting in an even heftier, more bombastic sound.

Songs like "Metal Heart" -- a percussive gut punch suitable for dancing or street fighting -- and a visceral, charged "Vow" -- where Manson thrust her knees in the air with hair-flinging vehemence -- rumbled by like a procession of heavy artillery.

Plenty of bands can conjure up this kind of blunt, overdriven forcefulness, but what makes Garbage distinct is that they underscore it all with a measure of sensuality and sophistication.

Slinky, rhythmic strip teases like "#1 Crush," which Manson introduced as "a filthy song for a filthy city," and a languorous "Milk" traded muscle for melodrama and a measure of vulnerability.

Still, even when slipping into more of a submissive role, Manson maintained authority.

"Bend me, break me, anyway you need me," she allowed on "I Think I'm Paranoid." "As long as I want you, baby, it's all right."

On the very next tune, "Bad Boyfriend," she welcomed all sorts of ill mannered behavior from an object of her desire, just so long as it turned her on.

Manson may admit to relinquishing her better judgment from time to time, but control?


Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at or 702-383-0476.