By Mark Guarino
Reality check time: Marilyn Manson is as threatening to America’s children as the Son of Svenghoolie.
Feel better? With entertainments of the “Hostel” and “Saw” variety becoming lucrative franchises, sadism and mutilation is hard-core escapism gone mainstream. Which means Manson, a go-to scapegoat for societal ills starting with the Columbine massacre, is a rock star in search of someone to shock.
Nowhere was that more evident than Monday at the Allstate Arena, where Manson shared a headlining bill with speed metal veterans Slayer. Times are tough when you’re the Antichrist Superstar: The arena’s second level was just about empty. It illustrated Manson’s difficult year: Sales of “Eat Me, Drink Me” (Interscope), a recent album, are to date disappointing. He was also recently slammed with a $20 million lawsuit from a former bandmember, charging Manson bilked his band of millions while enjoying high-ticketed trivialities like drugs, Nazi memorabilia and skeletons.
If only Monday’s live set had the pizzazz of that legal brief! Instead, backed by a four-person band, Manson plodded through a truncated show that, like those platform boots he wore to lumber about the stage, felt seriously labored.
Because his singing voice varies slightly between a snarl and a shriek, Manson is most reliant on his theatrical flair. But unlike his previous tours, which featured visuals that could trump those of any Broadway production designer, the components on this outing looked flat and cheap. For “Irresponsible Hate Anthem,” Manson writhed atop a giant-sized chair; for “Heart Shaped Glasses,” he twisted off the head a robot babe, sang to it, tossed it, picked it back up later, kissed it, then tossed it again. That’s less German Expressionism and more suburban Fright Fest.
Manson was more entertaining engaging the crowd during his songs — “Rock is Dead” and “mOBSCENE” in particular — that doubled as pop-friendly chants. But otherwise, in this ghoul’s world, the pace was dead and the lack of engagement, spooky.
Judging by the fog and minimal video, Slayer didn’t have a comparable burden. That worked to their favor during an earlier set of fast-and-ready metal dosed with serious themes, from media saturation to the war in Iraq. Now in their 25th year, the band is no less intense and actually sounds more uncompromising than ever. The music blazed forward as the band used nothing but a brutish, two-beat rhythm and brawny guitar riffs as their only guide.
Bassist and singer Tom Araya frequently stood alone to face the crowd. Intriguingly, despite the grim outlook of his songs and the punishing pace of his band, he made a point to appear gentlemanly. With a calm demeanor, he dedicated the anti-war song “Mandatory Suicide” to the troops in Iraq and noted, “they’re just as young as most of you.” The song was matched with “Angel of Death,” an older staple, which together offered consequences to all that pain.