The End Times U.S. tour kicked off last night at California’s Concord Pavilion, bringing with it the co-headlining bill of Marilyn Manson and the Smashing Pumpkins, which not long ago looked as if it could never happen until the actual end of the world. Though they recently rekindled their old friendship, Manson and lead Pumpkin Billy Corgan have been through a feud or three.
“I think [Corgan] might have got mad once when I told him that it would be a good marketing idea that if he sold Charlie Brown T-shirts and bald caps at concerts and he may not have liked that,” Manson famously told Larry King just two years ago. “He does look like Charlie Brown a little bit, in fairness.”
Last night, Corgan got his just deserts: the Smashing Pumpkins emerged victorious, while Manson seemed to be flailing.
The Antichrist Superstar’s opening set was studded with big Nineties hits, plus a few songs from his latest album, The Pale Emperor, woven into the mix. He cycled through a flurry of elaborate stage sets and impressive costume changes over the course of his hour-long set, but he seemed bored – listlessly going through the motions, while his energetic, muscular band picked up the slack.
Manson perked up for his notorious cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” bouncing around the stage on a pair of towering black stilts and pointing long black ski poles menacingly at the crowd. For “The Dope Show,” he had the audience fill in most the blanks, pointing the mic to the crowd as invitation for them to shout the chorus. Smoke machines, clouds of glittery confetti, a Bible that shot actual flames: none of the extravagant stage antics made up for the fact that Manson seemed like his heart wasn’t fully in it.
“How many people want to hear a really, really old song?” Manson yelled, briefly jumping into the pit to high-five some fans before clambering back on stage for the closer, “The Beautiful People.” A gigantic image of Manson’s face flanked by crosses filled the stage backdrop. He sang the song in a rapid-fire rat-a-tat-tat, appearing eager to get off the stage and do something else.
The contrast between the pomp and bombast of Manson and the crystalline clarity of the Smashing Pumpkins could not have been starker. The Pumpkins’ stage setup was refreshingly minimalist, with long white strips of fabric acting as a canvas to reflect lights and abstract patterns. Corgan wore a button-down shirt tucked into a pair of dress pants, as if he was on his way to a dinner party. (Manson looked more like a rock star in his intricate black leather outfits, but Corgan embodied the rock star.) Over the course of an hour and a half, Corgan and his band revisited their greatest hits without apology or nostalgia, peppering the set with new material, rare songs and an impassioned take on Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.”