At the height of his powers, a Marilyn Manson gig could bring a town to a screeching halt, especially if those towns were in the Bible (bashing) Belt. Venues would be subject to violent protests and earned coverage on the local news. Outraged citizens would vent their anger at the terrifying presence of the Antichrist Superstar, unaware this was precisely the type of reaction that Manson was riffing and feeding off. He was, of course, holding out a cracked and dirty mirror to the righteous moral majority, exposing the reality of their true values.
Some 17 to 20 years later, it’s Manson who’s inhabiting the role of his former enemies. Inspired by the blues – which he says he discovered for the first time while making new album The Pale Emperor – his guise tonight is as a crazed Southern preacher. Complete with an adopted Southern accent, which he maintains pretty well throughout the set, Manson raises hell by spitting fire and brimstone – the very rhetoric which so many Christian zealots used against him in the past.
It’s a clever conceit, invoking the spirituality of the music that inspired much of the new material while simultaneously sticking a middle finger up – or a clenched fist – at the Christian right, who continue to dominate politics and society in modern day America. It’s not as seamless or as shocking as the Manson stage shows of old, whether its his grotesque and sexually lascivious BDSM aesthetic or the parodying of Nazi iconography, but there’s still power to both his performance and his songs tonight – not least as he ‘baptises’ crowd surfers, placing his hand on their foreheads before they’re ejected from the pit. Of the new stock, both Killing Strangers and The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles offer up a dark, dirty and swampy blues for a sanitised world, though Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge plods somewhat unconvincingly, unable to live up to the outrageous hedonism of its title. Elsewhere, though, the God Of Fuck possesses just as much power as he used to – his iconic cover of Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) is sinister and brooding, a true unholy anthem, while Disposable Teens, Rock Is Dead and The Dope Show sound fresh and vital and dangerous – something helped by Manson’s knife-shaped microphone, his painted white face and deep red lips, all of which make him look like a cross between a damaged version of himself and Heath Ledger’s Joker.
There’s no denying the power of The Beautiful People and Irresponsible Hate Anthem, the brutal and disturbing one-two punch that closes the main set – not least because he comes back from behind the scenes before the former with fake blood dripping from his wrist, and proceeds to lick it up while staring, with a maniacal grin, at somebody on the VIP balcony. Manson himself has admitted that The Pale Emperor marks a rebirth for him and his band after a somewhat fallow and unconvincing period. With a half-realised stage show and a propensity to disappear offstage during songs, he’s not quite back to his terrifying, disturbing best. But, as he closes out the encore with Coma White, with his white shirt stained crimson and bloody bandages dangling from his arm, it’s clear he’s not too far off. Hallelujah…