Garbage review – scrappy cyberpunks make a strident homecoming

Festival theatre, Edinburgh
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Version 2.0, Shirley Manson’s ‘mongrel pop’ band channel robotic beats into an endearingly human performance

‘We love you Shirley!” This excitable shout from the stalls is a reminder that, for a quarter of Garbage at least, the opening night of their 20 Years Paranoid tour – marking the two-decade anniversary of their second album, Version 2.0 – is a home-town gig. Shirley Manson was born and raised in Edinburgh, honing her singing and songcraft in local bands Goodbye Mr Mackenzie and Angelfish in the late 80s and early 90s. Then, in 1994, she was invited to cross the Atlantic to join Garbage, the smelting-pot studio project cooked up from the persuasive melodic sense and industrial remix sensibilities of US producers Butch Vig, Steve Marker and Duke Erikson.

If Garbage’s 1995 debut album was the sound of Manson adapting to her new collaborators – injecting soul and wicked wit into Garbage’s sepulchral techno-rock – Version 2.0 was where the band found their cyberpunk groove. The album’s striking orange gridded cover was inspired by one of Manson’s outfits – a jacket that is, by coincidence, currently on display just round the corner. The Agnès B-designed garment is one of the key pieces in the National Museum of Scotland’s summer exhibition Rip It Up: The Story of Scottish Pop, on show as part of a Garbage nook that includes a platinum disc marking a million US sales of Version 2.0 (it would eventually sell 4m worldwide).

Strident and persuasive ... Shirley Manson.
Strident and persuasive ... Shirley Manson. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian

So Scotland still loves Manson, and Manson still loves Scotland. She gives a shoutout to friends, family and any former customers from her teenage days working in the local Miss Selfridge. While her bandmates stick to basic black outfits, she is a Helios goddess of Irn-Bru glam, dazzling in an asymmetrical dress of sunburst sequins, shiny leather bovver boots and a bold orange war-stripe of eye makeup recalling Daryl Hannah’s backflipping replicant from Blade Runner.

While some shows celebrating key albums stick to the familiar running order, here songs from Version 2.0 are reordered and riffled in with B-sides from the era, a time when the band’s inspirations and influences ranged from SodaStream commercials (the perky bubblegum of Get Busy With the Fizzy) to contemporary classics of Scottish feminist literature (the burning-chrome languor of The Trick Is to Keep Breathing, named after Janice Galloway’s first novel). There is also enough wriggle room to include their 1999 Bond theme The World Is Not Enough, a reminder of how Garbage’s self-described “mongrel pop” so effectively infiltrated the mainstream.

There are covers of Big Star’s heartsick ballad Thirteen and the ramshackle Can’t Seem to Make You Mine by freaky 60s garage-rockers the Seeds, which climaxes with Manson shouldering up to Erikson on keyboard so they can both bash out a punch-drunk solo. If the majority of this two-hour show is characterised by overdriven guitars, unerring robotic beats and pristine sonic curlicues, there are also other moments of human scrappiness. A false start to the techno-pulse of Dumb is blamed on a giggling fit; on the body-mod punk of Lick the Pavement, Manson shouts “I can’t hear a fucking thing!” halfway through but receives a roaring ovation anyway.

Their final encore is a cover of Bowie’s Starman, prefaced by a heartfelt plea to live in the moment. That might sound like a strange sentiment coming from a band in the process of reincarnating their 1998 selves, but as with anything delivered by Manson, it seems strident, persuasive and empathetic.

  • At Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow, 5 September and Ashton Gate Stadium, Bristol (0871 220 0260) 7 September. Then touring.


Graeme Virtue

The GuardianTramp

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