Garbage picks up the pace

May 11, 2002


Garbage is a band that only really does one thing, but it does it very well.

The Madison, Wis.-based quintet, which played a sold-out show Thursday night at the Riviera, felt it owed something to Chicago, since its last appearances here, opening for U2 in the fall, were derailed by drummer Butch Vig's illness and a faulty guitar rig.

''We have something to prove to Chicago,'' announced the band's Scottish firebrand, vocalist Shirley Manson. And the group proceeded to deliver--up to a point.

The formula was set with the band's self-titled 1995 debut. It combines Vig's percolating, largely electronic grooves and big swaths of neo-psychedelic, ''shoe-gazer'' guitar noise with Manson's attitude-laden vocals and catchy, new wave revival songs.

Think Debbie Harry jamming with My Bloody Valentine, or Chrissie Hynde fronting Primal Scream.

The band's second and third albums, 1998's ''Version 2.0'' and last year's ''Beautiful Garbage,'' were superior to the debut in that they seemed less overtly derivative. They continued to build on the basic recipe, but they added some additional spices with a little more variety and stronger hooks.

Performing on a stark but well-lit stage, an energetic and charismatic Manson sampled material from throughout the group's career, including ''Only Happy When It Rains,'' ''I Think I'm Paranoid'' and ''Shut Your Mouth.'' But the band's generosity ultimately undermined it.

At 30 minutes, the set would have been brilliant. But stretched over 90, the paucity of ideas began to annoy, especially given an especially loud and brittle sound mix.

Vig's combination of programmed and performed rhythms isn't nearly as innovative as Garbage seems to think it is, and after a while, guitarists-keyboardists Steve Markes and Duke Erikson seem to have about two basic riffs each.

It would have been nice to hear things varied a bit with some more straightforward rock drumming (as a producer, Vig is renowned for crafting great drum sounds for Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins). And I'd have killed to hear a little unadorned acoustic guitar or piano, with Manson's voice (sans electronic alteration) shining forth loud and clear on top.

A welcome move for the band in the future would be ''Garbage Unplugged''--or at least with the electronic effects turned down a bit.

Opening for the group was Abandoned Pools, the new combo fronted by Eels veteran and Los Angeles singer-songwriter Tommy Walter. The band attempted a similar brand of electronically tweaked pop-rock, but the hooks were far less effective, and Walter cut the set short, claiming to be losing his voice.