By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Tonight, they unite. But in 1998, Manson's core fan base, many on the green side of 20, waved knives over his Mechanical Animals CD, griping that it was too melodic -- not everyone would agree, but you have to consider the source. To some extent, the artist has accommodated the malcontents. After being scapegoated in the media as a motivator of the Littleton massacre, even though he wasn't on the Top 66 playlist of suicide killers Klebold and Harris, Manson required little urging to show his teeth in the face of the hostility. So hardcore fans will be happy to discover that his new Holy Wood album and Guns, God & Government World Tour bring more of the snarl.
Showtime. The band signal their intentions by opening with "Irresponsible Hate Anthem," from 1996's Antichrist Superstar, the collection that solidified Manson's rock-god status. The song is thrashy, furious, hooked with a grinding, tortured guitar riff and Manson's famous "I wasn't born with enough middle fingers" slogan, which he yells with throat-scarring recklessness as he spreads devil-bat costume wings. This vibe will be revived in Holy Wood chunks such as "The Fight Song" and "Burning Flag," but Manson shows that rage isn't all he's got in his bag. He learned in 1995 that he could deliver a more than passable torch ballad with his cover of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"; tonight, the song's huge dynamics provoke the expected emotional response from the assembled misfits, who're especially aware that "Some of them want to abuse you." And when, on "Tourniquet," Manson pleads, "Take your hatred out on me," recent history loads the words with an extra layer of meaning. The Bowie-esque gasp of "Great Big White World" and the stupefied blues of "The Dope Show," both from Mechanical Animals, vibrate with powerful despair. And hallucinatory stagings of Holy Wood selections (we're charged not to reveal details) not only bring the lurching "Cruci-Fiction in Space" to full realization, they push the groan of "Valentine's Day" over the top into a thrill-filled hell.
Though the current tour's visuals are stripped down some, and Manson is playing mostly in smaller venues than he did on his 1999 excursion, the resulting sharper focus on the music and the musicians brings its own rewards. The band is made up, coifed and threaded out in this year's corpse-jester couture. John Lowery, called John 5 because he's the group's fifth guitarist, looks like a dazed child, but after two years he's been fully absorbed into the band, his tactile command of simple riffs demonstrating why he's been a choice of musicians ranging from K.D. Lang to Rob Halford. The drummer, Ginger Fish, injects a sense of rhythmic tension without which pounders such as the galloping "The Beautiful People" might have come off flat. Madonna Wayne Gacy, called Pogo (John Wayne Gacy's clown name) by everybody, teeters on his spring-mounted keyboard like he's stuck to a live power line, scattering fistfuls of horror-movie squeedles, carnival countermelodies and just plain noises. Twiggy Ramirez, Manson's main songwriting conspirator, flops around like a broken doll while banging out big, doomy bass lines.
Neither press coverage nor Manson PR concentrates on these guys' considerable chops; that would be too, like, musicianish, and this is a show. Manson himself is always ready to hype the group's image with personal caricatures. Since the guitarist and drummer aren't drunks or dopers, he finds other ways to staple their pictures to the post-office wall: "John's a sex addict -- but not in a fun way. Everyone has a way to hide from reality. And Ginger, Ginger should have a psychiatrist look at him. He's the most dangerous person in the band." That must be because he's quiet. In a backstage buffet room after the show, Fish's sweet young girlfriend of the moment, asked what kind of music he listens to, says, "I think he'd say that what he really prefers is silence." When the drummer, small and shrew-faced, arrives, he sits next to her and collapses facedown on the table.
Pogo rushes in wearing a clownlike smile that backflips his depressive image, his eyes jerking randomly around. He talks fast. Really fast. Back-patted for his musical contribution, he's conflicted. He always liked guitars better than keyboards.
"In a strange way, I almost hate what I do," he says. "I don't even know if they can hear me sometimes." But Pogo does like being a rock star. "What other job can you spit on people and berate them, and they pay you for it? Plus, somebody actually hands you a beer and encourages you to drink it, and then lets you, like, smash things."
Who's Pogo spitting on? The fans? Manson always makes a point of respecting his legions. Most likely Pogo's just doing his best to say something obnoxious. It's hisjob to be a substance-abusing contrarian, too; he's been known to sniff Liquid Paper on camera. On one Web posting, a music forum on Napster-type free Internet downloading, Pogo complains that pirates are "taking drugs out of my mouth every time they do that."
Twiggy Ramirez hunches his long bones into the room. It almost hurts to look at him. Lipstick is smeared around his mouth, black gunk around his eyes, as usual. His speech is chattery and grating. His movements, spastic but somehow rhythmic, cause his long, omnidirectional dreadlocks to fly around his head. He radiates crazed, diffuse energy.