Glam, Slammed
Garbage shines through the glitzkrieg.

by Lisa Jann

It was not the cream of San Francisco's hipster scene that sold out the Fillmore on Tuesday night for Garbage's latest Bay Area foray. Thirty-something computer programmers bobbed convulsively to the music like plastic dashboard hula girls going over a cobblestone road. Bowl-headed pre-pubescents with their gangly appendages spurted sporadically to the jostling surface of the feeble pit, only to plummet artlessly to a bouncing hardwood floor. Plump, high school wannababes in uncomfortably tight silver t-shirts bitched cattily about the tall, backwards-baseball-capped frat boys that maneuvered doofily in front of them, their pumping fists obscuring the view of the stage. The awkward, the uncoordinated, the dorks (including myself) were out in force that night. The cool kids had all stayed away.

The reason why the Fillmore had spontaneously transformed into the 1996 Modern Rock Nerdfest suddenly became clear -- Garbage are a bunch of geeks themselves. It must have been the same image piranhas that authorized the obnoxious $20 "garbage grrl" baby tees that are responsible for the band's equally ill-fitting rock-star image. Because in spite of the glittery pink mic stand (complete with a crown of trademark hot-pink feathers) that stood at center stage and the impressive light trickery that turned the show into an operatic spectacle, it wasn't difficult to see through the band's thin veil of glam. Singer Shirley Manson, lanky and braless in her painted-on shirt and spiked collar, and the rest of the underdressed outfit of studio musicians pranced and jerked about for 90 high-energy minutes in just-happy-to-be-playing, garage-band abandon.

So they may not be candidates for rock stardom, but rocking is what Garbage do best. Last year's self-titled debut was an exercise in seamlessness -- high production values and masterful sonic navigation (with drummer/super-producer Butch Vig obviously somewhere behind the reins) wrapped Garbage's tracks in exquisitely landscaped packages, each song a perfect candidate for alterna-pop singledom. In spite of the show's glam theatrics, Garbage's slick production translated surprisingly well live -- in concert, the band is crunchier and more aggressive, barking out their limited repertoire of songs with alarming bite.

Shirley Manson, who has the most agile and distracting pair of breasts I have ever seen, bounded in reckless abandon throughout the show, her Scottish purr turning from smoldering rasp to a siren's cry on a dime. From the throbbing opener of "Queer," Manson seemed to self-mockingly relish her role as the band's sex-kitten, gazing melodramatically into the crowd through heavy black eyeliner. The enthusiastic beat of "Fix Me Know" prompted even more mammary aerobics from Manson, as she jiggled and shook with mesmerizing rapidity.

Manson backed up guitarists Steve Markes and Duke Erikson on "My Lover's Box," even if only in spirited posturing rather than for instrumental complexity. Plugging in a baby-blue Fender, Manson's lithe arm dug as butchly as she could into the strings, emitting what looked to be two whole chords for the entire song. For "Milk," Manson's hypnotic wail slunk powerfully throughout the auditorium as she bathed in an impressive column of aqua light, while Erikson's eerie keyboarding and Butch Vig's pulsating beat temporarily tranquilized the crowd's propensity for giddy boinging. Bringing the show to a biting end, "Vow" was equally fine and freaky, as guitar and sound effects ricocheted crisply off the walls, Manson's fierce declaration to "tear your soul apart" sounding like an honest-to-goodness threat.

Even under the lame guise of rock-star glitz, Garbage's appearance on Tuesday proved that the band could break out of the silly construction of their flimsy MTV Buzzclip-hip image and bust out with the music. Even the most gratuitous display of glitter and lights couldn't totally distract from the band's obvious talent to produce their perfectionist brand of shockingly well-written pop songs. Not everyone can be a rock star, after all.