The slam-bang shock-rock spectacle of the Slipknot/Marilyn Manson Summer Tour finally kicks off at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena tonight, and it arrives in an avalanche of rumor and speculation about both parties. Manson’s fat and on drugs! Manson’s fat and off drugs! If Corey Taylor tweaks his neck tonight, he’ll be paralyzed for life! He’s coming out on Dave Grohl’s throne since Axl doesn’t need it anymore! What if Slipknot sneak another singer under Corey’s mask – will anyone know?
What we do know is that Slipknot frontman Taylor broke his neck from the sheer velocity of headbanging and didn’t even know it. Emergency spinal surgery put the tour on ice for two weeks – a delay so brief in comparison to the scale of Taylor’s injury that the question is whether Taylor can even carry on as expected tonight? Does Corey Taylor even know how to tune it down? We’ll all find out after Marilyn Manson.
2016 finds the shock rock icon entering a creative renaissance, with last year’s The Pale Emperor drawing generous doses of critical and popular acclaim, all while balancing a burgeoning acting career on shows like Sons of Anarchy. And yet the days of Manson filling a venue of this size continue to shrink in the rear view mirror.
Still, the crowd roar at the sight of Manson as he lurches like a zombie through dense fog while performing anthems such as Angel With Scabbed Wings and mOBSCENE to the riotous delight of a legion of tattooed parents and their doppelgänger kids in matching black.
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In contrast to the rumours, Manson is not fat, instead exuding the lithe menace of his heyday. He wheels, postures, leers, crawls and badgers the other musicians into reacting to his campy theatrics – but such moments unfold in sporadic bursts of energy. Other times Manson betrays almost a sense of indifference, appearing lethargic or worse, bored. It’s not clear if his heart is in it.
He concludes the set by climbing offstage during The Beautiful People, and there are flashes of the old fire, an air of danger. But then the house lights rise and Manson breaks around the barriers to casually walk the arena floor as polite fans snap selfies with the former God Of Fuck. Manson appears disgusted. “Nashville, good night,” he sneers, slamming down one last mic.
Once upon a time a show like this would have been all about Manson. Tonight, it’s about another man entirely. Can Corey Taylor pull it off? Why is he even here when anybody in their right mind would be recuperating from spinal surgery with an eye towards the long term. As the band launch into opener The Negative One, all eyes lock on the singer.
“Let’s address the elephant in the room,” Taylor says early on, “I fucking broke my neck. But there was no way I wasn’t coming to Nashville to do this show tonight. It’s weird having this pillow around my neck but dammit, I’m here.”
Doubts about his physical wellbeing dissipate quickly as he spits lyrics and paces the stage in tight circles looking pissed off as ever. The black neck brace blends nicely with his mask and coveralls and other than an absence of headbanging, his movements do not seem compromised.
There is one scary moment when Taylor races up to the stage’s second tier followed by a reckless dash back down the ramp to perch precariously close to the ledge. The crowd’s sudden hush sends a clear message as Taylor keeps his raging closer to center stage and his bandmates cut him a wide berth.
Concerns temporarily abated, it’s business as usual for Slipknot: scary clowns and savage histrionics, the songs every bit as cathartic as they were fifteen years back, propelled by the pummeling groove of new drummer Jay Weinberg and bassist Alessandro Venturella , who just might be the band’s secret weapon of attack.
Nashville is hoping for some sort of Manson/Slipknot team-up in the encore to tie the whole experience together, but it’s not to be. Perhaps later down the road. Instead, this was Corey Taylor’s night, a finger in the face of the naysayers, a signal of his triumphant return.