Garbage, Rialto Theatre, April 16

One wonders if Garbage could have been meticulously engineered to be the perfect rock band by robot alien scientists in a deep-space laboratory.

I mean, here's a group that boasts a talented singer in Shirley Manson, who is as assertive, sexy and charismatic as any front-person in rock today, and three killer musician-producers (Butch Vig, Duke Erikson and Steve Marker). Together, they craft a sound alchemy using just the right proportions of the analog and the digital, resulting in irresistible hit singles and post-punk brooding, artful noise, new-wave bleep and arena-rock muscle

Garbage—anticipating the release of its fifth album in May—played more than 90 minutes before a nearly sold-out house at the Rialto Monday night, and the band sounded as good as ever. Magicians Roland Sarlot and Susan Eyed opened the show with a pleasant divertimento of illusion and sleight of hand.

The members of Garbage (which included bassist Eric Avery, formerly of Jane's Addiction) dressed primarily in black and performed on an artfully spare stage that lacked even the clutter of floor monitors. Manson looked amazing—she looked two decades younger than her 45 years. She bounced on her toes like a prize-fighter, shadowboxed, shimmied her shoulders and stalked like a panther; she clearly loved hearing the audience sing along to most songs with the sort of devotion usually reserved for a singer such as Morrissey. She was the production's sole visual effect, especially when she leaned over the industrial-strength fan at her feet, allowing her crimson hair to rise into the air like plumes of fire.

And the songs! From the whiplashing guitars of the opener "Supervixen" through "Queer" and "Stupid Girl" and "#1 Crush," to the walloping closer "Battle in Me," it was a glorious set that felt as seductive and dangerous as it was catchy and pop-smart.

Amid a uniformly excellent show, a few moments stuck out, such as the restrained, piano-led intro to "Only Happy When It Rains," Manson's agile rapping on "Shut Your Mouth" and the muscular one-two punch of "I Think I'm Paranoid" and "Bad Boyfriend." Well after the concert's end, Manson's "Push It" refrain ("This is the noise that keeps me awake") was echoing in my head.

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