Garbage @ Metro Theatre, Sydney (25/2/2013)

Sydney had waited seven years for their chance to see Garbage live again – and fans had to wait one extra night after floods and a wayward truck had prevented the band from making their scheduled appearance at Soundwave Festival the previous day.

So expectations were high tonight at this intimate Metro Theatre show. A long queue of largely black-clad devotees was snaking outside the venue well before doors opened, and the place was almost full even before Melbourne’s Private Life began their support set.

Private Life, who are yet to record their debut album, seemed a little daunted by the size of the crowd (“thanks for being the biggest and best audience we’ve ever had!”). They suffered slightly from technical problems and a poor mix (they sounded better out in the bar) but persevered, and put on a decent show, with the band – led by frontwoman Rennee Cassar – making a good, synthy New Wave noise.

Tonight’s gig had been declared an “all ages” show, but most people here look like they discovered Garbage at their ‘90s peak; back when their first couple of albums fused hard-edged guitars with sophisticated electronics and a pop sensibility in a way few were doing at the time. It always made them a difficult band to categorise: Too catchy for rock fans and too scary for pop fans. It gave the band an “outsider” status, and with that came an army of loyal followers who – even after all this time – had turned up to celebrate their return.

An enormous roar greeted Garbage as they took to their positions and hurtled straight into ‘Automatic Systematic Habit’. It was like they’d never been away. Shirley Manson, lithe as ever, and looking no older than when she was last here, has an energy that puts younger bands to shame. She stormed straight through ‘Queer’, ‘Blood For Poppies’ ‘Push It’ and a particularly intense ‘Hammering In Your Head’ without barely pausing for breath.

“Where the fuck have you been?” she asked when the band finally took a moment to re-hydrate, in a venue far sweatier and smaller than they’re used to playing. “This has been a long time coming”.

There was room for plenty of older material, with most of Version 2.0 making an appearance, and songs like ’#1 Crush’ sitting side-by-side with a few numbers off their most recent album, last year’s Not Your Kind Of People. But all of it was delivered with total commitment from a band playing as precisely and powerfully as they ever have.

Halfway through the show, the band paused again to give Manson an opportunity to apologise to those who had been “royally fucked over” at Soundwave the day before. While adamant that the cancellation was totally out of their control, she seemed determined to right wrongs and deliver a performance that made up for their Soundwave non-appearance. They more than delivered, playing a joyful, hit-laden show that never felt like an exercise in nostalgia.

Introducing the final song, Manson spoke at length, and with real conviction, about their time away and their decision to return. They dedicated ‘Beloved Freak’ to their fans who had welcomed them back with open arms, and it was clear that tonight felt like redemption, as much for the band as their fans.

Related: Meet Garbage’s biggest Aus fan