Born Superstar

All photos by Alix Critchley.

There’s something about seeing thousands of black-shirted, leather-booted, spike-bedecked rock minions descend upon a traditional venue like the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Classy suits and gowns are traded for gothic garb and generous bustiers. Conservatism and stuffiness are yanked down from lofty heights, beaten with whips, smeared with black goo and ridiculed… all in a spirit of spicy fun and dirty revelry, of course.

It’s been 17 years since the Antichrist Superstar known as Marilyn Manson tore into the teenage subconscious to the utter horror of parents everywhere. Not since Alice Cooper or Kiss (who by the late ‘90s were now seen as the entertainers they’d been all along) had a rock star shocked the fragile constitutions of decent North American society. Manson was seen as the epitome of all that was evil – drugs, sex, corruption, murder, the Devil. Cities banned him from performing on their hallowed ground, he was blamed for violent atrocities with which he had nothing to do – all because of a little bit of make-up, bad words and loud guitars.

Well, as is the case with all forms of shock, the blade, in time, dulls. It’s only natural. For so-called shock rockers like Manson, it’s a matter of remaining relevant and, above all, entertaining. By the number of seemingly new recruits in attendance at last Monday’s show, you can certainly check off the “relevant” box. We’ve all gone through it – some of you are going through it right now: when you’re young, a little lost and pissed off, you latch onto kindred pissed off spirits. Those kindred spirits, however rebellious, individualistic and anti-everything they appear, seek out idols, leaders. Enter Marilyn Manson.

And “entertaining”? Well, forget about checking off that box – just set the check sheet ablaze, toss it to the ground, and put your black nail-polished middle fingers in the air.

A few festive freaks couldn’t help but tear at the quietness in the theatre as we waited for Manson. These guttural cries were needed to remind some of us we weren’t in for a regular night at the opera. The other loud roar that happened before Manson’s arrival was thanks to a generous fan in a balcony box that couldn’t bear to wait any longer and had to shake things up (literally) and share a bit… alright, a lot – of herself with the crowd. The crowd approved, clearly.

Soon after, as the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” faded out (perfect, right?), the dark curtain shrouding the stage showed a skinny silhouette hoisting a mic stand, wandering and weaving to the sound of a demented music box. The veil finally fell and Marilyn Manson started things off, and aptly, with “Hey, Cruel World” (off last year’s Born Villain), quickly followed by “Disposable Teens”.

Manson’s costume changes kept pace with the set list. By song number three, Marilyn was parading around in his pope garb. I’d hoped he would have made a bigger deal of Pope Benedict XVI resigning earlier that day, but it quickly became clear that there was no room for improvisation in this traveling circus. Manson, being the premium entertainer for which he’s come to be known, rolled right along.

“Does everybody know that I almost died of the Canadian AIDS a couple days ago?” he asked the Vancouver crowd after “No Reflection”, referring to his on-stage collapse in Saskatoon on February 6th. He playfully referred to Eddie Vedder’s immortal rock’n’roll words to let us know he was okay – “… I’m still alive.”

Manson was all over the map – in the best way possible – going from hard rock demon to Vegas milk-bar crooner (“The Dope Show”). He strapped on a guitar for “Slo-Mo-Tion” and urged us all to la-la-la along as he announced that “Rock Is Dead”.

The show was a non-stop feast for the eyes as much as the ears, as ticker tape fell and bright lights flashed and Manson fire-extinguished the first few rows of fans. A fun-house mirror was rolled out to help him get pretty before he tore into Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”, which beyond being a timeless song in itself, works on so many other levels when sung by the Reverend Manson to his pale-skinned disciples.

Be it on the floor, side boxes or far back on the balcony, most people were on their feet by now, which is not an easy task in such a venue. His breakthrough cover of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” brought a few more to their feet, and back in time almost twenty years to when Manson first poisoned music television (remember that thing?) with his freaky self.

There was no place to go but down after that high point, yet Manson managed to electrify the room even more with the very predictable yet ultimately satisfying “Beautiful People”, which started off with a distorted guitar blast, deliberately louder than anything we’d heard all night. If you don’t get up for this, you’re either paralyzed or you just plain suck.

The song was an effective reminder of why Manson is where (and who) he is today. Instead of fading away into the obscurity of polite society over twenty years ago, little Brian Warner birthed Marilyn Manson, a persona that has served as (perceived) dangerous threat to the public, incendiary parody of our frighteningly ridiculous society, and unapologetic mirror to ourselves.

Nowadays, the picketers are long gone and the detractors have moved on to some new, freshly shocking evil. All that is left is Marilyn Manson, rock’n’roll star and proud freak. Sure, it’s all for show. But what a Show.