Live: Automatic Systematic Habits. Garbage, The Troxy.

Commercial Road come eight is a strange place to be. A street all but entirely devoid of any legitimate commerce whatsoever, it resembles some poorly constructed apocalyptic nether zone; a city composed entirely of sealed shop shutters, its cracked pavements littered with licked chicken bones. Everywhere there is Garbage although tonight there's ample reason to validate the tiptoe through the splintered tibias and fibulas as the rock-gilded powerpop stalwarts finally return to the capital, and Shirley Manson's father's cracked open the single malt in celebration as plastic cups chink during an unexpectedly dour encore.

Given both their longevity and (albeit slightly lax) grasp on the charts of yore, one may perhaps anticipate the swigging of liquored stuff from ornate chalices embellished with bedazzling glints and indeed similarly The Troxy's odorous carpets and kitsch holiday camp vibe are more attuned to Butlins than backstage at Brixton. It's mildly disassociating to a certain degree as you'd expect the four-piece to be enthralling in somewhat more stately – or at least salubrious – surrounds than these. A tour of England's verdant forestry perhaps or maybe purely Hammersmith Apollo. Whichever way, we're here now and it's a thrill to have them not only in our presence but also in such close proximity.
Speaking of thrills, there's little need to look beyond opener Supervixen: any lingering doubts over their ability to engage, even in this ostentatiously theatrical environ, dissipate absolutely and immediately like those malevolent, omnipresent wafts of fried chicken as dusk snaps and metals clatter earthwards toward mucky concrete. Manson snarls: "I'll be your religion" with such conviction that you're left feeling as though you've spent the past few years apart stranded in an horrendous wilderness. It's a breathless reintroduction and an irresistible Temptation Waits follows, Manson the cerise-lipped seductress as fervent whoops pervade the ambience with her every sultry removal of clothing. A vivid, succulent apple of enticement, it's one the sold out throng clamorously gorges upon and certainly the band inspire a palpable adoration scarcely sensed in this current musical climate. In deferential appreciation perhaps (she acclaims tonight's turnout to be "an unbelievable surprise", professing to the band as solitary entity feeling utterly "blown away"), material from next week's Not Your Kind of People comes at a premium and although the Robert Smith-styled gump of Battle In Me and the beer belly plod-via-sangria stupor of Blood For Poppies fleck the set, they're employed sparsely and are consequently kept peripheral. For far preferable is the meticulously reproduced Shut Your Mouth or the sight of Manson caught up within tempestuous Monroe-esque wind machine on a thoroughly hypnotic Metal Heart.

Resultantly it becomes increasingly evident that although Garbage may yet be plateauing atop the peak of their artistic powers performance-wise, when it comes to their songwriting craft standards are slipping a little as languid pen dribbles across blank paper. The drivetime romp that is Automatic Systematic Habit (perhaps inadvertently just that on first impression), for instance, is the sort of preordained album track that blemishes much of their more recent work and the vapid expressions that greet Manson's persistent insistence on some "dirty little secret" prove demonstrative of the inescapable ageing of us all. Duke Erikson, despite looking supremely dapper in august waistcoat, is growing ever shorter on both back and sides whilst Manson herself can no longer totter through tonight's entirety atop vertiginous heels. And despite the feverish jitter that propels the track aforesaid, the "crazy fucking weirdos" here conglomerated stand static throughout, arguably already exhausted.
However a fair degree of work out is inflicted prior to this latter point: Stupid Girl sounds more rambunctious than it ever did on record, its FM-molesting hump invigorating whilst the risque words of #1 Crush exude an undiluted sexuality to arouse beneath the tightest of chastity belts. Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!) meanwhile, lifted from the lamentably underrated beautifulgarbage of '01, has an exuberant Manson pouting invitingly and posturing obscenely as she struts imperiously. Cooing of 21-year-olds, from the most remote and apathetic bar at the back – envisage a speed dating session devoid of conversation and then exponentially exacerbate the awkwardness – she looks barely a touch beyond and her vocals remain undeniably ageless as they viscerally slice through the mix although the lyrical refrains of its Christmassy middle eight are relinquished in order that they may be faithfully bellowed back from whence they came.

Thus the back catalogue, when at its best, begins to blend into one blissful amalgam of gloopy bubblegum schtick and that's one inconceivably enormous gobstopper of a compliment, as when they tear into Why Do You Love Me with an unapologetically breakneck vigour. Starkly juxtaposed however is The World Is Not Enough and, as a bald head illumined by the flash of a camera phone dawns on ill-angled screen like the most rudimentary of Bondian intro sequences, other memorable elements are few and far between. Its every lyric ultimately instantly forgettable aside from the tagline, it has indubitably failed the test of time as it fades into an anaemic kind of pastiche that's best exterminated from thought like a gold-tinted bullet to the cranium, whilst newbie Man On A Wire swiftly fizzes into Hard Rock Café crap. Push It, dedicated to "pained" manager Paul Kremen, has dated about as well as I'm Too Sexy and shares the same bass line and a muddy I'm Only Happy When It Rains only brings back a slither of brightness during Erikson's Chris Rea-ish solo.
Essentially the all-exclusive roadie badinage with the so-called "Pork Chop" and the stadium pop hyperboles of all the ladies "lookin' good" feel a little contrived; Manson's premeditated band intros intensely choreographed and the shock factor evoked by, say, Queer back in '95 may have dwindled somewhat. Yet as the crowd thins during that lukewarm encore aforementioned, that shock of garish hair remains as vibrant as it ever was. As things chug to a halt on the gurgly Vow, intriguingly she incorporates a stanza from Patti Smith's Because the Night and although yodels of "Because the night belongs to us" may seem quite presumptuous, on the evidence of this evening they probably just about ring true.