On Marilyn Manson's latest release, The Golden Age of Grotesque, he sings, "But now I'm not an artist/I'm a fucking work of art." Nobody can describe Manson quite like he can and has done on almost every CD and song he has released. He even elaborates on his reputation in Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. Manson's self-awareness, combined with the abnormality of his image and his culture of "anti," is blunt and barefaced. When I showed up at the Aragon Ballroom on Friday night to see the Mobscene (Manson's name for his assembled fans), I was eager but completely unsure of what to expect. I left my mind open and let the experience take over.
The opening band, S.T.U.N., irritated the Manson crowd with punk jaunts that went back and forth between four completely discordant melodies. While the first song was mildly tolerable, the set list died somewhere between the jumbled guitar solos and confused drumming. With the exception of the utter absurdity of the lead singer, who vocalized his inner yearnings like "Give me all your fuckin' hate" and "Give me some fuckin' drums, I need some fuckin' drum," the band was, at best, really terrible to watch. Among the sea of middle fingers and booing mouths, the bassist and guitarist attempted to look really apathetic but most likely became sobbing messes of black clothing after their set ended.
After the band's much-anticipated exit, the black curtain came down upon the stage. But this was no ordinary Aragon stage; it was surrounded by twice as many speakers, and was much closer to the center of the room than I have ever seen before. Smoke started to drift from backstage toward the crowd of dark-clothed "disposable teens" and pierced thirty-something couples. Still, there was no sign of the man who claims "Satan worships me, motherfuckers."
While waiting for what seemed like an hour for Manson's grand entrance, I learned the following: 1) The four guys in front of me had dropped acid before the show; 2) The guy next to me was praising Charles Manson for being a saint; 3) The guy to my left had vampire fangs; and 4) I was going to get killed in some ridiculous mosh pit and have to have the fuzz scrape my remains off of the Aragon floor. Also, within three feet of me, three fights almost broke out because some obnoxious man attempted to use the old, "My brother is up there, let me through" excuse, and the drunks called him on it. Thankfully, the music finally started.
The song, a classical piece with macabre strings and morbid cellos, was perfectly juxtaposed with the dramatic unveiling of the Manson stage. When the curtain lifted, dungeon doors, speakers topped with pinwheels of female legs, two parallel marble-topped platforms, and numerous other props appeared.
Manson lowered from the stage ceiling in a huge marble chair, outfitted with shorter hair, pinstriped suspenders minus the undershirt, and fabulous lace-up boots. The recital of the ghoulish began with the opening strings and electronic fuzz of "This Is The New Shit," the first track off Grotesque. Manson's screams blasted through the chorus like the angriest of Rottens, the maddest of Cobainsand the crowd was motionless. The symphony of sound, lights, stage, and, above all, the star of the show was intoxicating. His often-underrated voice (or scream?) melodically glided over the industrial-strength guitar and androgynous Ginger Fish's distinctive, rhythmic drumming.
"Use Your Fist And Not Your Mouth" rose up from the vault of Manson anger ballads. Live and in full color, this song rivals "The Fight Song" in attitude and catchiness. "Fist," a complete mockery and sarcastic attack of the American use of violence, is one of the gems of Manson's new release. Of course, the set list wouldn't have been complete without crowd favorites like the covers of Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" and Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams". From chilling whispers to the incensed shouting of "Some of them want to be abused," Manson flawlessly reproduced his studio sound. "Disposable Teens" and "Beautiful People" quenched the older fans' thirst, who, all in all, remained markedly tame. Ultimately, the booms of "Fight Song" reduced the crowd to a bunch of jabbing fists on "Fight, fight, fight "
The title track of Grotesque, a melodic combination of low piano and booming electronics that features Manson singing at some of his highest octaves, sounds like the theme song to a gothic circus. Needless to say, this quieter track allowed Manson to work the stage, licking his bassist Tim Skold's neck, swaying his hips and pursing his lips, all the while donning a top hat and tiny jacket. Now clothed in plastic chest covers and underwear, the two Manson showgirls played piano and swayed seductively on the bench. The acoustics, from the overtly amplified guitar to the little drummer boys on stage, penetrated the Aragon's faux Spanish façade.
The burlesque quality of the whole panorama of vaudeville spectacle was too scandalous to ignore. Manson especially had fun with his provocative half-naked showgirls, at one point stripping off the brunette's underwear, and later sticking a microphone suggestively up the back of the blonde's underwear and singing out of it. I felt like a voyeurthat is, until I took a step back and reminded myself of Manson's grand scheme. He aims to disturb, but in an intelligent, honest way. Completely conscious of his every propfrom a femme-bot pushed dinner cart to the huge pictures of himself as a satanic Mickey MouseManson carefully plans every aspect of his regime, both the demented and the disgusting.
Manson provides vivid imagery and shocking lyrics to weaken stomachs and challenge comfort levels, which, ultimately, is a genius way to get people to examine their ideals and beliefs and think about his music. It seems that people have had enough of his anti-Christ culture of hate, his version of a "shock and awe" campaign. Beyond the enthusiasm of the crowd and the awesome audiovisual combination, though, I came away with more from this concert than I have from most other concerts I've been to. Never before have I thought so much during a performanceand I know that that was the intention of the artist. Most importantly, Manson's music never took second place to the stage antics; the entire show was tied together in a coherent and thoughtful exhibition of stun, fury, sexuality, and fear.
So much controversy has surrounded Marilyn Manson for so long, but that is because, as he himself admits during his Columbine interview, "I am a poster-boy for fear." He recognizes that he is over-the-top and flashy, but puts more work into his art than any emo band on the face of the planet. That is why I am not embarrassed to admit that yes, I am a Marilyn Manson fan. And yes, this concert was vulgar, ridiculous, eccentricbut above all, captivating. Manson is, indeed, a fucking work of art.