Manson Targets Guns, God and Government

Tour debut finds Marilyn Manson balancing shock and schlock

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He may have dubbed his current tour "Guns, God and Government," but don't look for Marilyn Manson to rock the vote in these waning days of the presidential election. "I'm so tired of global warming," he told the crowd at St. Louis Fox Theatre on Monday. "I'm so tired of nature. Fuck everything!" He then dedicated a song to poor role models in the family, community and government, including Bill Clinton, whom Manson accused of "fucking America in the ass with his communist cock."

OK, so Manson is not quite ready to square off with Tim Russert and Sam Donaldson on the Sunday morning talk shows. His venue of choice is the concert stage, not the political arena, and there his nihilistic message rang out loud and clear. Throughout his fierce hour-and-a-quarter performance, the only platforms being endorsed were his high-rise boots.

The stakes for Manson, who is playing mid-sized theaters on this tour, are dizzyingly high. The last time he was on the road, he found himself up to his leather corset in controversy, as politicians and protesters implicated his music in the Columbine High School massacre (the teen gunmen were fans). Manson cancelled five shows due to the furor. His new album, Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) hits the streets on Nov. 14, and since his previous effort, 1998's Mechanical Animals, debuted at No. 1, the charts have been stormed by the angry likes of Eminem and Limp Bizkit. It is uncertain whether the mooks will make way for Manson, or if the audience even cares any longer for his particular brand of shock rock.

Judging from the reaction of his St. Louis fans, they do. And on the eve of Devil's Night how appropriate is that? Manson treated them to a Halloween spooktacular that was relatively lean, exceedingly mean and highly entertaining despite the preponderance of unfamiliar new material in his set.

Opening with the ominous instrumental "Count to Six and Die" from Holy Wood, Manson appeared center-stage in a floor-length leather coat to lead his four-piece band through a scorched-earth version of "Irresponsible Hate Anthem." Digging back into the new album, he performed "The Death Song," an anthemic rocker, and "Disposable Teens," Holy Wood's first single.

Switching gears, albeit minimally (as you'd expect, there are no ballads in a Manson show), he sang "Great Big White World," one of only three tunes from the glam-centric Mechanical Animals. That was followed by a punishing version of "Tourniquet," then his political proselytizing against priests, teachers, bad dads and Clinton. "There is no future. It's all right now," he declared. "So let's fight!"

That set off "The Fight Song," a glammy rocker that was accompanied by cannons shooting glittering confetti. During "Lunchbox," Manson glowered at the audience and mimed the crucifix-masturbation scene from The Exorcist. For "The Dope Show," he donned a ratty coat made of God-knows-what brand of roadkill, but discarded it soon enough to allow him to preen about the stage and hump one of the monitors.

As by-the-numbers as all of this sounds, it was remarkably effective, and the music provided by the band -- guitarist John 5, bassist Twiggy Ramirez, keyboardist M.W. Gacy, and drummer Ginger Fish -- consistently went for the jugular.

Though the first half of the performance was strikingly free of gimmickry, the second half upped the showmanship quotient a bit as Manson, stripped to the waist, rose to the rafters with a long black skirt around him to sing "Crucifiction in Space." "Burning Flag," appropriately enough, was accompanied by a giant backdrop of a scorched Stars and Stripes. The song was equally hot, perhaps the shows musical highlight, and Manson spit the lyrics through bullhorn.

After the requisite "Sweet Dreams," Manson turned in his most theatrical performance on "Valentines Day," which found him dressed in a bishop's miter and vestments, kneeling at a mock communion rail with mannequin heads mounted on either side of him. The stage was festooned with banners depicting, rather incongruously, Elvis, JFK, Charles Manson, Jesus, Marilyn Monroe and Lenin.

If that routine was a bit overcooked, so was "The Love Song," which he sang from a lectern decorated with several guns shaped into a crucifix. "Do you love your gun?" Manson screeched, his chest smeared with stage blood.

More effective was the spare, galloping rhythm of "The Beautiful People," and the crushing metallic attack of "The Reflecting God" that brought the show to a close. The sole encore was "Rock Is Dead."

If you can set aside Manson's message (though given the vehemence of his negativity and nihilism, who really can?), the Guns, God and Government tour proves that his music can stand on its own, that there is more here than mere showmanship and that it maybe can even hang on amidst the onslaught of the rock & rap competition. It's a tough act to keep going in an age when nothing is shocking, but Manson is still manning the barricades of outrage. Judging from his politically titled show, he's for both bush and gore these days, just not the politicians bearing those names.