by Alissa Ordabai
– Senior Columnist –
July 5, 2012 at Brixton Academy, London, United Kingdom
He came, he saw, he performed, and – presumably – has already left town, also leaving us to ponder how a chubby, stilted cat with awkward stage moves, who can’t sing, doesn’t play an instrument, and isn’t much of a songwriter, to this day sells out theaters and arenas, still upholding his status of one of the biggest stars in the history of rock.
And before anyone says that the phenomenon of Marilyn Manson simply shows what rock has fallen into, there is still – despite the superficial theatricality – something earnest and profound about the non-musician who 18 years ago became the über-goth, the ultimate punk, and the direct heir of the mystics, the dabblers, the provocateurs, the dandies, and the visionaries of the dawn of the 20th century. To this day, after the shock value has long worn off, and satiation, boredom, and time have taken their toll on Manson’s output – there still remains that murky, uncomfortable truth at the bottom of his act, the deeply disquieting reality which is at once haunting and fascinating.
As tonight’s sold-out gig has shown, the continuing attraction may not be about the songwriting or the musicianship, but it’s not about the visuals either. This evening’s set design was conventional by Manson’s own rules, and mildly irksome by the standards of today’s corporate rock. The Nazi-inspired pulpit he sang “Antichrist Superstar” from, the ’70s disco curtain lights which occasionally lit up the backdrop, the chichi poses with an umbrella under the falling fake snow, and the dagger-shaped mic were nothing we haven’t seen at a Manson show before. If anything, this time the production – although slickly sharp – was a shadow of his OTT visual extrapolations of the past.
But even now, when the goose-stepping, the costumes, the flagrant glam gestures, and the rhetoric don’t shock anymore, Manson’s act still manages to get under your skin, no matter how unspontaneously he goes through all constructed motions, as he did tonight. No matter how smoothly Mason rolls along the well-oiled track, there is still that primordial, deeply unsettling truth he continues to channel right from the sea floor of our collective psyche. And there is still that feeling that he knows things we don’t speak about, and not only knows, but can foresee what would happen if knowledge turned into action, constantly hinting that it eventually will.
A plain vocalist – to put it mildly – who obstinately defied the expectations of the industry by refusing to learn how to sing, Mason manages to get through to us precisely through this artlessness – bypassing the craft and going straight for the gut.
Having refused – in a similar way – to learn an instrument, or to take songwriting lessons, he just about manages to make his music support his act. The end result is a strange equilibrium – always on the verge of a fall – between his at times gut-wrenching, and at times hypnotic voice, the basic ostinato riffs, and the musicianship of his band purposefully reduced to the bare essentials.
In a rational world none of this should have worked – and often it doesn’t – but Manson’s act is all about this kind of absurdity. His contempt for his audience endears him to those who can’t stand hypocrisy in their rock stars, his refusal to learn a musician’s craft makes us re-think what music should, can, or is expected to be. And his contrived theatricality is – paradoxically – the ultimate honesty one can expect from a rock star.
Nobody knows what the rock scene would have become if Cobain lived, but as things have panned out, it was left for Manson to define, to scare, and to scorn the generation which still upholds him as its most representative artist. And he did it with the same degree of honesty that Cobain has always had – having gone 360 degrees from where Nirvana have started to arrive at the same zero ground where no options are left but to lay it all on the line. And stuff done this way never gets old, regardless how familiar the props, the wardrobe, or the tunes are becoming with time.
1. Hey, Cruel World
2. Disposable Teens
3. The Love Song
4. No Reflection
6. The Dope Show
8. Rock is Dead
9. Personal Jesus
10. Pistol Whipped
12. Irresponsible Hate Anthem
13. Sweet dreams (are made of this)
14. Antichrist Superstar
15. Beautiful People