“They keep this up, they’ll be wearing my goddamn beer in a minute.”
The guys that stood next to me were grousing about the photographers up in the mezzanine at The Van Buren. Somebody above us was using their flash to take pictures of the huge crowd milling inside the downtown Phoenix venue before Marilyn Manson took the stage. And apparently those quick bursts of light were driving the Mansonites around me mad. “I’m gonna go up there and smash that fucking camera,” one of them muttered angrily.
I couldn’t understand why they were so aggro. The photographer wasn’t interrupting anything. We were all standing around in darkness, waiting for the show to start. The lights had cut out a few minutes earlier, and the crowd reacted to the lights going off with the most ecstatic cry of excitement that I’ve ever heard at a show.
Don’t be fooled by all the dark clothing. This was one crowd that knew how to get lit.
The audience lost it when the curtain came down, revealing Manson and his band. They were illuminated in a pale violet light with an array of white beams fanned over their heads. A pair of huge prop guns stood behind Manson, forming a kind of makeshift St. Andrew’s Cross. The singer sat on a motorized throne that could wheel and spin him across the stage.
Seated in his chair, he looked a little like Professor X getting ready to go out for a Rocky Horror screening. Manson opened his set with “The Reflecting God.” And Manson gave it his all. He contorted and twisted his spindly frame in the seat, howling into the mic like the words were splinters being pulled out of him.
Following an injury sustained during a show last year, Manson has performed using a wheelchair. His leg was broken in two places when a giant prop gun fell on him during a September 2017 concert in New York. Manson had to cancel several dates, including an October concert at the Arizona State Fair, which was rescheduled and moved to The Van Buren.
He got up on his feet for the next number, and would bust out of the chair throughout the show. As the band played “Deep Six,” white strobe lights flashed across the stage, revealing strange scribbled words and graffiti on the walls behind them.
Manson’s band sounded fierce and aggressive live. The difference between the recorded songs and their live counterparts was the difference between a caged animal and a wild beast on the prowl.
There were costume changes, of course. After he played a few numbers, they’d dim the lights between songs and a group of stage hands would spring up and help Manson into his next getup. They surrounded and assisted him with a speed and dexterity that made them look like a NASCAR pit crew switching out some flat tires. But they never transformed him into anything too crazy — just a bowler hat here, a feathery shirt there. Anyone expecting a full-on Mechanical Animals androgynous alien bodysuit would go home disappointed.
The most theatrical moment of the night was when Manson held a glowing light in his hand, singing into the amber light for “Sweet Dreams.” As can be expected, older songs like "Sweet Dreams" and “The Dope Show” got the biggest pop from the audience. But newer cuts like “KILL4ME” and “SAY10” played well live. Manson’s band played the new shit hard and heavy, giving older fans a reason to stay put and not use “this is a song from my latest record” as an excuse to go take a smoke break.
A few costume changes and a handful of headbangers later, Manson and his band started to hit a rough patch.
The music itself was fine, but the transitions for Manson’s costume changes got longer. At one point, they cut the lights for a costume change that lasted almost four minutes before the lights came back up for “The Nobodies.” It was a strange bump in the evening’s flow, and it seemed like the energy both onstage and off sagged for the next few numbers.
But then came “The Beautiful People.”
Manson’s closing number started with him banging his hands rhythmically on his bassist’s guitar. Someone behind me cracked up and said, “I think he’s showing the guy how to play the song.” But it became clear what Manson was doing when the rest of the instruments joined in and those martial riffs and “ahhhhhhhhhhhhs” backing vocals filled the room. It was the perfect way to end the night: one last bit of spirited head-banging and horn-throwing before we all had to turn into pumpkins and go home.
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Last Night: Marilyn Manson at The Van Buren in downtown Phoenix.
The Crowd: Remember the nightclub scene that happens early on in the first Matrix movie? Yeah, it was like that. Morpheus coats, fetish nurses, ladies with devil horns, white-dude Rob Zombie dreads, Sons of Anarchy cosplayers, black lipstick on boys and girls, and so many leather pants. There were also a couple of cowboys in attendance, surprisingly enough. Maybe Marilyn should think about going country sometime. He could probably write a lot of songs about how his woman took his dog and left him for Satan.
Overheard: “You want to use him as a human dildo?” Manson shouts this query at an audience member between songs. Ninety percent of Manson’s stage banter involves one of the following subjects: sex, fucking, how pornographic the music video for ____ song is, his ass being sexy, and so forth. The other 10 percent consists of him wondering aloud if we’re cheering for him or for rain when he mentions it rained the last time he was in town.
Random Notebook Dump: At one point, they were playing some Cat Stevens during Manson’s preshow. A part of me was hoping that Manson would pull a Death Grips on us and not even do a proper concert. It would just be him onstage, holding a boombox over his head playing Tea for the Tillerman. Maybe he’d come out for the encore and hit us with some Sweet Baby James.