One of the pitfalls of the recent trend of veteran bands performing their notable albums in full is the inability to cherry-pick the gems and leave the rest quietly aside. Alt-rock stalwarts Garbage compounded the difficulty on Wednesday at the Orpheum; the band not only intended to deliver every song from its self-titled 1995 debut (albeit shuffled around), but also mix in the full complement of B-sides and other ephemera associated with the record.
It could have been overkill. It probably was overkill. Garbage pulled it off anyway.
Credit Shirley Manson for that. The Scottish singer’s default was a hooded, belligerent glare, and she projected a disaffection comparable to that of Nirvana and its grunge-era brethren but directed outward, as if it were the world’s problem and not her own. Manson sold even relatively tuneless churns like album outtakes “Trip My Wire” and “Driving Lesson” through sheer will alone.
And when the material was strong enough, Manson drew blood. “Not My Idea” perfected the corrosive shudder at Garbage’s core, while “Milk” slowed down for poisonous seduction. It seemed like the band’s full weight was thrown behind Manson’s “I nearly died” refrain on “Vow,” but the song expanded still further as it rumbled to its end.
The impeccable clarity of drummer Butch Vig’s sound (aided, no doubt, by the clear drum shields attached to his nonetheless active kit) was key, as guitars, bass, and electronics tended to sludge together. Vig and Manson served as Garbage’s opposite poles, with guitarists Duke Erikson and Steve Marker and bassist Eric Avery largely just filling the space between them.
Even so, that framework often gave them more than enough to build on. The guitars ate their way to the surface of the fast, twitching “As Heaven Is Wide” like battery acid, and the heavy, groaning lines left the sneering roar of “Bad Boyfriend” (relegated to the encore, and one of only two songs not adjacent to Garbage’s debut) shedding attitude. At its best — like the intensely powerful “Stupid Girl,” with its machine-gun drums and Giorgio Moroder synth undergirding Erikson’s caustic guitar while Manson pogoed and stalked across the stage — Garbage fused solid, as if two decades hadn’t passed.
Opener Torres took excellent advantage of the Orpheum’s natural reverb. Sung with a tremulous alto, her songs were tuneful but swirling, with the instruments reaching out loudly into space even on a relative ripper like “Strange Hellos.”
With Torres. At Orpheum Theatre, WednesdayMarc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.