The only thing Marilyn Manson and the Smashing Pumpkins seemed to have in common, other than cynicism, were successful ‘90s careers. Manson’s was punctuated with public hatorade and embraced for waking a decade to the darkly perverse, and the Pumpkins became spokespeople for grunged-out, pissed-off people tired of a life that felt like a constant hangover. Manson was the binge, and the Pumpkins were the hair of the dog. That’s really as close as they came in my book. Their dichotomy held up on their co-headlined “The End Times” Tour stopped in Phoenix on Saturday. Manson put on a theatrical show of Bible burning and live masochism, and the Pumpkins provided a sobering morning after, performed in front of airy white sheets hanging from the rafters.
It was a relief that 46-year-old Manson — the charming Antichrist, Pale Emperor, or Brian Warner by any other name — went first.
Marilyn Manson likes to throw things in the crowd, ever the charming Antichrist (as one of my religious friends noted during my debriefing with her on Saturday). He also is the patron anti-saint of knocking things over. This isn’t a figurative appropriation of his career. At any given time during his performances, there’s at least one stagehand sprinting to move cords out of his way or hoist an amp he pushed to the ground or replace his abused microphone stand, which he playfully would kick to the ground and then pop back up. (False alarm, roadies!) Nearly every song was also punctuated with an amplified clang as Manson dropped the mic on his way offstage for a costume or set change.
And, sure, Manson has made a career out of nicking the knock of naysayers.
The first time I saw him was at Mayhem Festival headlining with Rob Zombie. That performance was boring. I mostly remember him curling up into a ball on amplifiers and his zombie-like movements across the stage. He appeared far from the powerful lord of shock rock persona he portrays in his lyrics. I had to admit I was disappointed that first time. Manson has a history of bad behavior on stage. I was excited to finally see some performance art, and I didn’t. However, Saturday night’s show at Comerica more than made up for the dud festival impression.
Manson doesn’t just put on a concert — he puts on a show. It was a tragicomedy of a man who has flawlessly carried his blackened artistic aesthetic through decades of cultural waves.
Manson took the stage Saturday night with a scream. Backlit in golden smoke, he swung his microphone in time with thundering church bells christening his bandmates’ entrances. The lights flickered with the anger of a Fantasia storm. Manson, dark-mouthed and dressed in black up to his chin summoned “Deep Six,” off his most recent album, The Pale Emperor, to a sweep of crowd excitement. He also proudly declared he had been waiting all year to sing “Birds of Hell Awaiting” off his new album, which features verse, “This ain’t no Phoenix, baby,” to the crowd. The stage was set with large stained glass windows featuring Manson’s double-cross logo wrapped in serpents. Manson himself was swathed in a red cloth like a deity. There were some nice nods to the theme with rays of golden lasers forming crepuscular rays around the rocker.
Manson, who never misses a chance to sarcastically plug his unabashed approval of self-worship, quickly mentioned a new music video and then loaded himself into stilt shoes with tall crutches for him to stride the stage during “Sweet Dreams.” During “Personal Jesus,” Manson stood at a podium while two women in American flag thong bikinis did their gyrating sexy business.
“Phoenix, you’re welcome,” Manson said afterward. “Boo all you want, but you just got to see Jesus in the form of a black girl’s ass.”
During “Dope Show,” Manson poured a baggie of white dust onto the floor and then threw it into the crowd. He also disappeared by the stage right amps, where he gestured for a girl who was sitting off-stage to come over. Without missing a beat he slightly altered the lyrics to tell her, “I love you when you’re on all the covers.” (This isn’t a wholly new concept for Manson, who proposed to Dita Von Teese onstage.)
Manson and bassist Twiggy had a mini love fest shortly thereafter. He hugged him from behind and patted his bassist’s while heart singing Nirvana’s “Rape Me.” Apparently this meant it was time for Twiggy to do a quick jam. Then, of course, there was some Bible burning atop a propoganda podium. Afterwards, Manson’s face was painted black and he had fun painting audience member’s faces with his surplus makeup.
The last song of the set — and really the only mellow moment of the previous hour — was “Coma White,” performed in a hooded black cloak behind a microphone stand of flowers. There seemed to be a few technical issues as it was difficult to hear Manson’s voice over the band.
Based on concert shirts around the theater, it seemed as though most of the crowd was leaning a bit more Pumpkin than Pale Emperor. There was more at stake for these audience members, anyway.
Billy — who prefers to be called William these days — Corgan was quoted a few months ago in a Rolling Stone interview as disenchanted with his past-minded fans. It’s what delayed the band’s third and final album, Day for Night, in the Teargarden by Kaleidyscope series. (It’s expected to drop in September, and the band is expected to be “up in the air” by December, according to the article.) For many fans who are tuned into the pathos of their beloved musicians, this tour may be the last chance they have to see Corgan & Co.
This was my first Smashing Pumpkins concert, and it was alarmingly uninspired for much of the first half of the set.
Corgan put performing before his feelings last night at Comerica. He and the band rushed through a hit list of ‘90s tracks, including “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” and “Ava Adore,” before finally getting to a song they were, visibly, more enthusiastic about performing (“Drum + Fife,” off 2014’s Monuments to an Elegy). During “The Everlasting Gaze,” off the pre-2000-breakup MACHINA/the machines of God, Corgan acerbically turned the “creatures scream” verse onto the audience.
Corgan enjoyed himself as the concert went on; he felt pretty sexy during a guitar solo in “The Crying Tree of Mercury.”
The highlight of the night, though, was the soul-er coaster of a ride, “United States,” which followed a pretty tempestuous drum solo. Corgan has a bone to pick with the world and called all my arm-y hairs to attention with his curdling screams. It was transcendent. If nothing else at that concert was played, this one felt important.
Corgan quickly said into the microphone, “Remember, you’re not dead if you're dreaming,” before making a quick getaway.
For the encore, Corgan came onstage alone and armed with an acoustic for “Cardinal Rule,” the only song from the Pumpkins’ yet to be released album.
What: Marilyn Manson and The Smashing Pumpkins at Comerica Theatre on July 11
The crowd: Saw one top hat and a lot of hair that has seen its share of home dye kits.
Overheard: Pre-concert: “This is the slowest ass concert I’ve ever been to.” — A girl who thought she was being funny, maybe. “Satan Is Real” by the Louvin Brothers began playing as soon as she finished her rant.
Post-concert: “I waited 20 fucking years to see the Pumpkins and not one song!” — a guy who clearly was on a smoke break for the last hour of the concert — or just didn’t like anything on the set list.
Bias: I read Manson’s biography by Neil Strauss and still liked him afterward. A guy with a pretty face let me borrow Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness in college. I walked into that one with some brown-eyed bias.
“Deep Six” (The Pale Emperor, 2015)
“Disposable Teens” (Holy Wood, 2000)
“mOBSCENE” (The Golden Age of Grotesque, 2003)
“No Reflection” (Born Villain, 2012)
“Third Day of a Seven Day Binge” (The Pale Emperor, 2015)
“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” (Eurythmics cover) (Smells Like Children, 1995)
“Angel With the Scabbed Wings” (Antichrist Superstar, 1996)
“Personal Jesus” (Lest We Forget, 2004)
“Dope Show” (Mechanical Animals, 1998)
“Rock Is Dead” (Mechanical Animals, 1998)
“Lunchbox” (Portrait of an American Family, 1994)
“Antichrist Superstar” (Antichrist Superstar, 1996)
“Beautiful People” (Antichrist Superstar, 1996)
“Coma White” (Mechanical Animals, 1998)
The Smashing Pumpkins
“Cherub Rock” (Siamese Dream, 1993)
“Bullet With Butterfly Wings” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
“Tonight, Tonight” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
“Ava Adore” (Adore, 1998)
“Drum + Fife” (Monuments to an Elegy, 2014)
“One and All” (Monuments to an Elegy, 2014)
“The Everlasting Gaze” (MACHINA/the machines of God, 2000)
“Zero” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
“The Crying Tree of Mercury” (MACHINA/the machines of God, 2000)
“Mayonaise” (Siamese Dream, 1993)
“Disarm” (Siamese Dream, 1993)
“Landslide” (Fleetwood Mac cover) (2008)
“1979” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
“Run2Me” (Monuments to an Elegy, 2014)
“Thru the Eyes of Ruby” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
“Take Me Down” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
“United States” (Zeitgeist, 2007)
“Cardinal Rule” (Day For Night, TBD)