He confessed his dealer’s name — Mike — telling the audience the secret was between us and him. Manson talked about how he wasn’t on drugs, though he sounded like a drunken frat boy. And he reminded us all that we could get drugs from our doctors (though presumably not the human bones he told Rolling Stone in October that he once smoked and would never inhale again).
Blathering about drugs was about as shocking as the shock rocker got — and let’s be honest: Using drugs is a tired rock-and-roll trope, about as surprising in rock as a bass, a guitar and a drum kit.
The Antichrist Superstar, once considered a possible candidate for Satan incarnate among the evangelical set, is a little shlumpier these days. He ended most songs with an awkward a cappella wind-down, the kind of thing a novice self-conscious blues-rock band might use to try to charm the local brewpub crowd. Nonetheless, he managed to inspire the front of the room, though not the folks at the back, who seemed mostly disengaged.
In part, that’s because Manson's stage show, which has a reputation for being spectacular, was stripped down. There were no video monitors to bring us up close and personal. There were no fireworks. Outside of a sculpture of two large pistols (presumably the same ones that broke his leg late last year, forcing him to cancel a Denver gig) and some psychotic child scrawl painted on a backdrop, the only real spectacle was a glut of smoke and two people who kept walking onto the stage dressed as doctors, faces masked.
There was that and his electronic wheelchair, with a gothic tall back a pope might sport on his throne, that Manson used to take a load off and wheel around between bouts of standing. Oh, and he spit a lot.
Maybe it was his broken leg, the drugs or (take his word for it) the lack of drugs that was subduing him, but Manson just came off as a run-of-the-mill rocker. Perhaps that's because pulling off the high-priest-of-Satan persona in the era of Donald Trump would be a virtually impossible maneuver. Yes, finding something to shock a public that is now used to pedophiles running for office and rapists staying in power couldn’t be an easy task. But I wished he would have done something to ruffle the crowd (not point an automatic rifle at us, as he did at a show in San Bernardino, a satirical joke that fell flat and for which he later apologized).
Manson came off as soft in this most unfriendly time we’re living in, when Garrison Keillor and Aziz Ansari — iconic nice guys — have been blasted for sexual misconduct. Nah, in this era, Manson just couldn't be monstrous enough for his old shtick to work.
It's too bad. Manson is the guy who says he hates the hater and rapes the raper. He’s the one who delivered us sweet satanic dreams, embraced androgyny and explored extreme self-love (remember that myth about how he removed a rib to give himself blow jobs?) long before body modification and gender-bending were status quo.
Now he’s just another rock star in a world where little in art is unsettling because almost everything outside of art is so unsettling. How do you sing a compelling song about the Revelation in an age where climate change threatens to end the world — that is, if the president doesn’t push the nuclear button first? The Horsemen of the Apocalypse just don’t seem that creepy in comparison to the nightly news.
Instead of scaring us, Manson has to rely on his musical and lyrical skill, just like any other rocker, to wow a crowd. Unfortunately, outside of covers, his songs, at least live, just didn’t hold up. His voice teetered on hoarseness. His vocal delivery did not match the quality of his backing band. He came off as a little sad.
Now he’s about as scary as KISS. No wonder Manson loves drugs.