Pop: Superb vixen

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ARE the thinking man's Republica. Both bands oscillate between Britpop, rock and grunge and are headed by commanding female vocalists with a penchant for controversy. But where Republica's frat-house rock is of fleeting interest, Garbage's more robust sound has a depth that has earned them respect and longevity.

Sadly, the vigour found on their recorded material struggled to translate live as Shirley Manson's vocals were lost in the echoing acoustics of Wembley Arena. The introduction of a percussion section, sporadic techno rhythms and over-exuberant lighting served only to highlight the band's frailties. In the end it was up to Manson's trademark magnetism to bring the show to life.

Manson is best in dominatrix mode. As she stomped up and down pointing at the boys in the front row and entreating them to bow down before her, she was the epitome of the Nineties femme fatale: strong, sexy and mouthy.

But it seemed that this fiery red-head has grown tired of this persona. Despite her icily confident demeanour, Manson displayed a darker side fuelled by paranoia. Over and over again she referred to how her band has been insulted by critics, crying: "Why do I feel that the world conspires against me?" The words "freak" and "ugly" recurred as she remembered her teens. Manson also seemed ill at ease with her audience - on one occasion, as she changed instruments, a hush fell across the auditorium which was suddenly broken as she bellowed, "why are you quiet? What's wrong with you?"

A guest appearance from Chrissie Hynde put a merciful end to her whingeing: Manson returned to her supervixen ways, swishing her ponytail like a petulant teenager and spitting out the words as if she had a mouthful of grit.

The pair of them performed a rabble-rousing duet of "Only Happy When It Rains," and the crowd roared. At the end Manson dropped to her knees in reverence, declaring Hynde "the real deal". This was the kind of spectacle that befits an arena show.

The real deal indeed.

A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper