Pop Garbage The Forum, London

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The Independent Culture
With minutes to go before Garbage took the stage for their first ever UK show, a flustered student was haggling with a ticket tout in the street outside. "Thirty quid?" the lad repeated, aghast. "I paid half that for David Bowie!" The barrel-necked tout leaned back on his heels, cold as a cadaver. "Yeh, but Bowie was crap," he said. "This is Garbage."

Interesting distinction. The two words used to mean roughly the same thing. Not any more. Brand something "garbage" and you'll be likening it to a band who have released one of the year's most vigorously original and appetising albums. This self-titled debut has the same energising kick as the Pixies' Doolittle or Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation, and like those bands, Garbage put perverse spins on traditional pop structures, leap-frogging from menace to exotic psychedelia to delirium in the space of a single chord-change.

At the Forum last Thursday, they dispatched their songs swiftly and with a minimum of fuss, rearranging breaks and protracting outro's but generally behaving like a band desperate to get their first UK show out of the way as quickly as possible. They had a dynamic opener in "Supervixen", a slab of brain-churning pop-metal led by a queasy riff that made you seasick. It also stops and starts so cleanly and precisely that I can't have been the only one who thought the CD player was jumping when I first heard it.

Most of the set was culled from the album, with the exception of two exemplary B-sides, "Trip My Wire" and "Girl Don't Come", which may have been included as padding but ended up as the most electrifying things on show. Aside from singer Shirley Manson, that is. Wriggling and jiving in a vest and skirt that would be a tight fit on Baywatch Barbie, she looked young enough to suggest that she was skipping her physics homework to be here, yet so wind-beaten that you believed her predatory lyrics were born out of experience, not guesswork. Beneath her smudged eye-liner sat smudged eyes; she could be PJ Harvey's kid sister, nicking her make- up, her dietary regime and her tips on how to terrify a man into complete submission.

In fact, she and drummer Butch Vig (who produced Nirvana's Nevermind and still has the goatee to prove it) were the only ones who looked like they should be in a band, or at any rate a band who aren't chasing a summer season booking in Weston-super-Mare.

But in the end, it wasn't the presence of two guitarists who remember where they were when rock'n'roll was invented that occasionally made the show as exciting as taking out the garbage. Perhaps it was the PA system, which made the songs furry when they should have been fuzzy. Or the insurmountable level of anticipation, which couldn't have been met if Vig had announced Kurt Cobain as a special guest.

Manson's make-up wasn't the only thing that was smudged. The songs missed the frisson of confrontation, and the rasping intimacy. "Only Happy When It Rains", a modern "Paint It Black", was suited to the raucous hammering it got, but "Queer" relies upon a breathy seduction in your ear. So hearing it live was like being flirted with from across a crowded room via semaphore and loud-hailer. And an attempt to pull off the stuttering-guitar trick of "Vow" went badly wrong, creating a jumble of sound you'd expect from a faulty Walkman.

The bright pink feather boa wound around the mike-stand was a nice reflection of the songs, which wrap themselves about you like boa constrictors. On Thursday, however, their grip was loose. It wasn't the gig of the year. It wasn't crap. It was just Garbage.