It’s late 2007, on the Gregorian calendar at least, and few prognosticators, few honest fornicators even, could have peeked inside the looking-glass and predicted that Marilyn Manson would be alive—let alone alive and on tour. In fact, the artist provocateur himself didn’t think he would still be touring: his last brief trek, 2004’s Against All Gods Tour, was rumored to be his farewell to the music industry, his swan song (he had just released a greatest hits album). He’d wanted to pursue work in film (his obsession with Lewis Carroll got the best of him), and, after marrying his longtime muse, burlesque artist Dita Von Teese, appeared to be, god forbid, settling down.
But, then, things change, don’t they? Manson’s marriage ended in a tumultuous divorce; he had a terrible and unmerciful uncreative streak; and his film, while still in production, is nonetheless in a holding pattern. The result of this real-life personal crisis is his current release, Eat Me, Drink Me, which takes its understated and pedantic title from three rather curious sources—modern German cannibalism, Roman Catholic transubstantiation, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. At the heart of this new album (to borrow a trope from Manson) lies the harsh reality that love is destructive, murderous even, to the individual. Who would have thought the erstwhile Antichrist Superstar would produce, however gothic, a break-up album?
The new material is principally about a failed romance, while also, queerly, invoking the fleeting ecstasy associated with newfound love (Manson’s new muse is the Lolita-like actress Evan Rachel Wood). Manson claims that this album is his most personal testament yet; that it is a true, if shattered, portrait of doomed love. If Eat Me, Drink Me is Manson’s most “personal” album, how precisely will its songs translate in front of a live audience? How will Manson function sans the mask of one of his numerous characters? And most important of all, is Marilyn Manson even still relevant?
Of Manson’s respectable, if brief, 14-song, 75-minute set, an amazing five tunes come from the new record. This is noteworthy not only because Marilyn Manson has a considerable catalog to draw upon, but more importantly because many of the newer songs stray wildly from the tone of his earlier work. In other words, Manson is more than willing to showcase his new material; it doesn’t matter so much if the material is more personal—he can still perform it well. Tonight, he does.
Manson kicks off the show brilliantly with the new album’s opener, the caliginous and surreal 10-minute epic “If I Was Your Vampire”. After fans wait what seems like three centuries for the ersatz smoke to consume the stage (and theatre), ominous keyboard notes are struck, the stage curtain falls, and Marilyn Manson stands incredibly tall, center stage, with his back facing the audience. This is not his usual entrance; he usually arrives on stage as if he were some warrior-conqueror greeting his enemies, arms raised, facing the crowd, walking rapidly, and ready to wreak utter hell (sometimes he steps off of a cross). It seems Manson would rather ensnare than upset: he holds back for a time (the song has a slow rhythm to it). While not as shocking as he is capable of being, he casts a more sphinx-like presence when behaving this way (it is also one of many nods to Jim Morrison that he makes tonight). By the time the chorus comes around, Manson is standing close to the crowd. Now, finally, he yelps with unabated fury into a gargantuan microphone.
The transition into Holy Wood’s catchy “Disposable Teens” is rather thin, but the song’s feisty guitar riff compensates for the initial shakiness, as well as for the rather subdued opener. Manson throws down his microphone forcefully at the conclusion of most of his songs, which might suggest a bottomless zest for performance, and yet he’s barely interacting with the audience. He merely yells “Dallas” several times and does the usual interrogative preface to quick-becoming-stale encore “The Beautiful People”. This point may seem minor, but it is reflective of a fundamental diminishment of spirit. Manson is still enthusiastic, just not as enthusiastic as he used to be. He does venture forth into the audience to shake hands, but his gestures are rehearsed and cautious; he seems wary of letting himself lose control. (He has, after all, had legal issues with security guards.) On a brighter note, Manson has brought his props out in the open. His other attire may change during the show, but his trademark tight, Joker-style pants and dash of pink face make-up are mainstays.
And his props haven’t been this diverse since the highly theatrical tours in support of Holy Wood. On Black Sabbath-influenced tune “Are You the Rabbit?”, he falls down the rabbit hole and lands on an exaggerated kitchen chair, on which he proceeds to ride, gyrate, and swing. During “The Fight Song”, he wears professional boxer’s tiny gloves and robe as he jogs about inside a miniature boxing ring. This witty take on the song’s title would normally amount to self-parody, but because Manson puts so much emphasis on the song’s vocals, it’s one of his best (and most theatric) songs of the night.
Surprisingly, new song “Heart-Shaped Glasses” comes across well live (“surprising” because it’s essentially a pop song, and not comparable to anything Manson has done before). Manson dons a pair of heart-shaped glasses for this number (another play on a song title). Then, he plays the theocratic fascist dictator, with fake smiles and kisses, during “Antichrist Superstar”, and a small Bible strikingly catches on fire. During “The Dope Show”, a man—the omnipresent authoritarian—follows him around stage with a spotlight.
The most stimulating prop appears during what seems like an out-of-place rendition of Antichrist Superstar’s “The Reflecting God”. During the high point of the song, Manson appears to be fiendishly flying toward the ceiling; all one can see is smoke and his upper torso. All the while he ironically screams, “Forgiveness?”
Fair enough—perhaps some forgiveness is in order. Overall, Manson’s new material comes across successfully. While Manson is clearly not as “with it” as he once was, he still is one of the best performers out there, and his blend of controversial theatrics and musicality is something rare and precious, perhaps too unique to ever be entirely irrelevant.