What happens when two of the greatest showmen in the history of rock ‘n’ roll come together for a tour that, on paper, is so mouth-wateringly huge and stacked with amazing songs that it could very well bring about this whole Apocalypse thing that everyone’s been banging on about this year? Well, what happens in the first half kinda depends on your attitude towards Marilyn Manson in 2012.
Three years ago, our Brian turned up on stage at Download and delivered what has become widely recognised as the worst festival performance by an established and once-great metal artist in the history of everything ever. We’ve gone over the scale of that disastrously bobbins showing enough times since to not bore you with the tear-jerking details once again, but when we saw Manson put on a similarly dodgy performance in Tilburg, Holland earlier this year, it looked for all the world that the man who once presided over the most scintillating and terrifying circus of horrors that alternative music had to offer had about as much chance of matching up to a Rob Zombie arena show as he had of joining the US Olympics squad for Rio 2014.
And yet, there’s a real sense of cautious optimism floating around the o2 tonight as Manson’s set draws near. Sure, there’s also a healthy number of people that are either a) purely here to scoff at the demise of the Antichrist Superstar or b) not really bothered either way, but for the faithful, there seems to be a glimmer of hope that we could be about to finally see Manson get back in the saddle an deliver a great show again.
And, as the lights cut and an intro tape leads into Hey Cruel World, the first track from this year’s solidBorn Villain offering, the immediate results are…mixed. Over the first half-hour of Manson’s set, we witness a seriously ropey and out-of-breath Disposable Teens, a much, much more convincing Love Songand an okay but generally unspectacular No Reflection (complete with admittedly pretty cool-looking Pope attire), and there comes a growing sense that Manson can deal with his lairier, more scream-heavy material than anything which requires an ounce of melody.
Yes, this might sound like a ludicrous thing to pick up on given that the man’s vocals have never been regarded as his strongest point, but when a genuinely gorgeous, haunting song like Coma White is producing cringes all over the place because of how off his voice is, you know something’s still not quite clicking. It’s a real shame, especially given some of the brilliant visuals that are reeled out during his set (Manson stood, centre-stage, drenched by sleet falling from the rafters during Coma White would have the potential to be a show-stealer ten years ago), but there are still yet signs that all is far from lost for the God Of Fuck.
Just when it seems that his performance is set to be another write-off, he comes back ludicrously strong with a guttural King Kill 33, a powerful Antichrist Superstar and a face-saving Beautiful People to bring his set to an unexpectedly muscular, confident closing. It doesn’t hide the fact that he’s still well off the pace for the most part, his onstage banter generally veering from slurry and misplaced to outright confusing and his band sounding very laboured at times, and there’s still a niggling sensation that this is all an interesting warm-up act at best, but it’s a start. A real start. And given that Download set, that’s good enough for us for right now. Mazza, stick to the heavy stuff next time and leave the ballads at home, ‘aight?
It becomes pretty damn evident that Zombie is going to steal the show spectacularly before he even arrives onstage, with that giant, flaming, green-eyed robot of his getting wheeled out and left stationary for a few tantalising minutes before the man himself leaps out and launches himself into Jesus Frankenstein. It’s big, it’s ludicrous but it’s absolutely brilliant, and while his overall stage show is still pretty close to the one he brought over for Download and in February last year, seeing it on this kind of scale is still a helluva sight to behold.
Even with the White Zombie classics thrown in, you’d be extremely hard-pushed to argue that Zombie’s back catalogue can match Manson’s finest moments, but the likes of Superbeast and Meet The Creeperturns the mood in the arena upside down, and by the time he drops Living Dead Girl (complete with a duly met request to have pretty much every girl in the building up on someone’s shoulders), it’s a straight up horror-movie heavy metal party in here.
There are so many cameos from giant monsters, demons and robots of various shapes and sizes that it’s hard to keep count, while some carefully placed moments of pyro and confetti and gnarly visuals courtesy of some impressively huge LED screens does a venue this size some serious justice. The fact that guitarist and drummer (and former Marilyn Manson alumni) John 5 and Ginger Fish get to bust out solos that actually go down a storm (in Ginger’s case partially thanks to some well-timed horror visuals and in John’s partially thanks to Zombie himself heading out into the crowd) says it all about just how electric this gig is – and there’s even time for an airing of the awesome Lords Of Salem trailer to top it all off. The cheeky sod.
Rob throws himself into everything like it’s his first time headlining a big show, demanding crowd participation at all times and leading the thousands in attendance into a thunderous Sick Bubblegum, a perfect if brief cover of Alice Cooper classic School’s Out and, of course, the career-best banger that isDragula. It’s a pretty flawless set and he’s rarely still for any of it, and while it’d be silly to ignore the fact that a far, far superior stage show to his fellow Twin Of Evil certainly helps his cause tonight, he proves that he’s still as on top of his game as a frontman and a showman as ever. Fair play, young Robert. Here’s hoping Brian steps it up another notch next time around.