Ding dong the witch is not dead—and thank the watchful deity for that. What a difference a year or two makes: Marilyn Manson’s performance in Kansas was nothing less than a bona fide return to form; although this gig truly lacked some of Manson’s de rigueur elaborate and calculated histrionic explorations, the striking item here was that Manson clearly has regained a great deal of his (in)famous vigor and spirit. For a Marilyn Manson gig, the set was overwhelmingly stripped down, but nevertheless quite intriguing and thoughtful. During his brief but effective one hour set—following Slayer and closing the show—at the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, Manson displayed little, if any, sign of some of the sloppiness and downright shiftlessness that accompanied several of his shows in support of 2007’s Eat Me, Drink Me (On that round I witnessed shows both in Texas and Missouri; both legs.) Instead, Marilyn Manson seemed remarkably lucid, engaged the audience, and delivered the hits. One could not ask for much more.
Of Manson’s eleven-song, late-night performance, four songs were from his most successful and critical album—the Trent Reznor-produced Antichrist Superstar (1996). They were: “Irresponsible Hate Anthem”, “Little Horn”, and “Tourniquet”, and, of course, “The Beautiful People”, the predictable set closer. This was a keen move because the songs from Superstar also happen to be some of his heaviest and most abrasive to date, though several cuts from Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) (2000) would have proven appropriate too. (From Holy Wood he only played the catchy, popular single “Disposable Teens”; he could have played “The Fight Song”, which is louder sonically and fiercer lyrically.) Manson likely hoped to win over a few indecisive metalheads to his particular variety of protean rock, and his loyal supporters were grateful to hear so many songs from his most critically-acclaimed album, especially “Little Horn”. It’s a win-win situation, then, for both Manson and his fans.
Marilyn Manson certainly is cognizant that he is playing at a “metal” festival, but at the same time he doesn’t absolutely compromise either; after all, Manson relishes the opportunity to push buttons, to be bold and showy. Case in point: The show opener—a new song—“We’re From America” actually emanated more of a Yeah Yeah Yeahs-like punk rock sound, with synthesizers blazing much like hellfire; Manson, for instance, is promoting the recently-released LP The High End of Low (2009), and he bravely chose to play three songs from it, including the musically and lyrically opaque, genre-bending “Four Rusted Horses”, the show opener on his European dates. Manson could have given in—he is playing a “metal” festival—and played “Wight Spider”, a straight-up, ravishing goth-metal number also from Low. He played “Leave a Scar” on some Mayhem dates. He, too, patently ignored his last album, but he—confidently—played two songs from his Bowie-indebted LP, Mechanical Animals (1998): “The Dope Show” and “Rock is Dead”.
The relative lack of props meant that Manson’s music itself went under the microscope; this wasn’t a bad thing necessarily. A few of Manson’s antics, however, were conspicuous—he playfully danced in front of his brunette lady friend during several songs; he had confetti shower the fans on two occasions; and he cleverly used water as a device, as handlers gave him numerous bottles, most of which he tossed into the audience after a only a few sips; he also had handlers pretend to give him scores of pills while on stage. But mainly it was Manson’s music that was on display tonight. The climactic moment of this gig occurred during the one-two knockout punch of Superstar’s “Irresponsible Hate Anthem” and the rarely-played “Little Horn”; these two songs were played back to back, and with a loud, impassioned intensity not typically found in modern rock music. Usually stoic guitarist Twiggy (formerly on bass during live gigs) could be seen headbanging with a singular and unfettered fervency. Also, Manson purposely underscored a pivotal line in “Little Horn”—“Everyone will suffer now”—to accomplish a villainous, dramatic effect not to be outdone.
Overall, Manson’s voice sounded incredibly well, though he skipped a few of his lines and sometimes encouraged fans in the front section to sing for him; this is an aggravating habit of his, but his interaction with his fans is something invaluable too. But what mattered was that Manson appeared to be genuinely excited about his own music and performance. It was also stimulating to witness Twiggy on guitar. He played solidly, and the sound was precise and good, yet he betrayed none of the Eddie Van Halen-esque finesse and flair that Tim Skold brought to the band. Rather, Twiggy appeared nearly solipsistic at times, perhaps anticipating Manson’s puckish antics during each number.
Manson donned several outfits, but his most memorable piece had to be a black trench coat similar to the one he wore when he performed “The Speed of Pain”, during the 1999 Rock is Dead Tour. Two songs were noticeably missing tonight, and both used to be Manson staples—“The Reflecting God” and “Antichrist Superstar”. Manson typically plays politician during the latter, and throws a burning Bible into the air. Instead, he tossed a burning Bible during “Four Rusted Horses” here. Prior to “Arma-goddamn-mutherfuckin-geddon”, Manson made a bawdy and ironic allusion to The Wizard of Oz, essentially stating that his mind and heart weren’t so well but that he was thankful to Jesus that a certain part of his anatomy still functioned properly. It’s nice to know that Marilyn Manson doesn’t have to rely solely on his theatre and colorful wit—at this show he fundamentally proved that all along it was his music that was truly provocative.