Remember when metal was fun? And no, I’m not talking about the easy AquaNet-and-mullet punchline that is 1980s glam rock, which VH1 would have you believe is the be-all-end-all of metal roots. I’m thinking more of the goofy boogeyman shtick of Alice Cooper, the blue-collar kabuki of Kiss, and the tongue-in-cheek Satanism of Ozzy Osbourne that defined the early days of the headbangers ball. I’m talking about the pleasure metal bands used to take in being vile and disgusting because they were smart enough to know it was all a sick joke that only parents and media fuddy duddies would take seriously. Back then fans could laugh with the bands while also getting their socks rocked off.
9 Aug 2002: Ryan's Ballroom Combined Locks, Wisconsin
Metal has lost much of its original spirit in the last 10 years. What was once a trashy and subversive genre is now a self-pitying bore. In the nu-metal brigade, bands take no pleasure in being vile and disgusting (it’s a joyless job) and they are stupid enough to take themselves seriously. The utilization of Halloween make-up and smoke machines is now a serious artistic statement. Tiresome divorce-and-ex-girlfriend diatribes have replaced hilarious sex-and-slasher lyrics. Now metal is about how miserable you feel and how much the world sucks and there’s no beat and you can’t dance to it. Boo!
Into this dire breach steps Rob Zombie, the only guy I can think of in the current metal scene fit to pick up the torch from Alice, Gene and Oz. Who else is going to do it? Jonathan Davis? Those pishers from Slipknot? She-yeah, right, and monkeys might fly out of my butt.
(The writer would like to immediately apologize to PopMatters and its readers for his use of a circa 1992 Wayne’s World reference in his Rob Zombie review. As pathetic as it might sound, he couldn’t think of anything better to write in its place. He promises to do better next time should PopMatters let him write again).
I’m not the biggest Rob Zombie fan in the world, but I was pretty psyched about catching his secret Ozzfest off-date apperance at Ryan’s Ballroom in little ol’ Combined Locks, WI. Here is a guy who definitely remembers when metal was fun, and he knows how to make the most out of his stage space, filling every corner with robots, dancing women, skulls, dead people, monsters and even a musician or two.
This being a club show, Zombie had a smaller stage than usual and therefore fewer stage props to flaunt. While the club appearance must have been great for fans, who probably have never seen the ex-White Zombie frontman anywhere other than from the lawn seats of some massive outdoor amphitheater, I wanted to see some cool blood-and-guts type stuff. A cinematic rocker like Zombie demands the kind of wide-screen treatment only an arena or stadium can provide.
Zombie might have preferred something a little bigger, too, judging from the sweat pouring down from his nappy locks as soon as he hit the stage. It gets damn hot in a ballroom packed with 1,100 rabid fans, and Zombie was never far from a fresh bottle of water during his 90-minute show. “We’ve done five of these club shows and they’ve all been fucking hot and miserable. But tonight, it’s really fucking hot and miserable,” he said early on. Being all boogada boogada boogada really takes it out of you.
Not that Zombie didn’t deliver the goods. Stripped of most of his onstage artifice (the only remains of which were two giant pictures of Frankenstein and the Wolf Man that I mistakenly ID’d as Moe from the Three Stooges), Zombie was still charismatic enough to keep the horrorless show swift and, yes, fun-filled. While Zombie has never written a tune as memorable as “Eighteen” or “Strutter”, his best songs are surprisingly catchy and even poppy. “Living Dead Girl” is like Britney Spears given an industrialized “Addam’s Family” makeover, while “Dragula” has a shout-along chorus straight out of Gary Glitter’s songbook. Harder rocking tunes like “Meet the Creeper” and the White Zombie chestnut “Thunder Kiss ‘65” deliver the predictable-yet-still-potent heavy metal thunder that involuntarily gets your neck and head moving back and forth. But don’t take my word that it was a good show. Take it from the unnamed gentleman standing next to me who wrung a shot glass-worth of sweat out of his white undershirt before the first encore. Now that’s what I call metal that’s good to the last drop (Note to self: Don’t wear sandals to a Rob Zombie show).