The Opera House, Toronto
Friday November 10th
by Wendy Stewart, Imprint staff

Music stepped in the right direction with its newest pop member: Garbage, led by top producer Butch Vig, who returned to his first love, drumming. Despite the obvious challenge of translating a very produced album to live music, Garbage managed a performance filled with energy, charisma and polished talent.

Opening for Garbage was a west coast band called Acetone. Though their performance was commendable, their country and western flavour was not received well by a crowd looking for fast action tunes. In a different setting _ perhaps sitting down to a few relaxing drinks very late at night -_ I could see myself really enjoying their crooning songs.

As we waited for Garbage to emerge, I began considering the perplexities of the show. If you have heard their only album, you might ask, can Garbage translate their sound processing and loops to live music? And if you know who Butch Vig is, you might wonder, can Butch make the move from back stage to front? The answers: yes and yes.

The band, consisting of lead singer Shirley Manson, Duke Ericson and Steve Marker on guitar and keyboard loops, Butch Vig on drums and hired bass-player Daniel Shulman, managed to juggle loops, new songs, and even a gimmick or two to make the show into an exciting live experience. Both Ericson and Marker smoothly swapped guitars for keyboards throughout the show.

Butch Vig, in case you haven't heard, has produced albums for Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins, to name a few. Not only does he play drums for Garbage, but his intensity coordinated the group, keeping the music focused, even when Manson forgot her lines to the song, "Subhuman." Manson recovered from a fit of laughter shared with the band and held the microphone out to an audience member, "Here, you sing it!"

Manson, pony-tailed and brash, looks young enough that any member of the band could be her father. Garbed in a simple grey tee and black satin pants, she contrasted with her microphone stand wrapped in a bright pink boa. And despite her claim that they were up at five a.m., Manson consistently jumped and grooved to Garbage's moshable music. It was partially her youthful exuberance and sex-appeal that made this pop band into the whirl-wind of fun that they were.

The last song of the main set left the entire audience begging for more. Their live rendition of "Queer" had even the die-hards bopping to the beat. Garbage performed their previously recorded tunes as well as two songs unheard by North American audiences such as "Subhuman" and "Trim My Wire." Despite being unfamiliar with the material, the crowd ate up both songs.

Pop music as garbage? Perhaps some is, but not when Butch Vig has a hand in it.