About a quarter of the way through his set at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom on Wednesday night, metal veteran and horror film director Rob Zombie paused to address the audience. “It’s a shame we couldn’t be here on Halloween,” he growled to the crowd. “But we figured it was close enough.”
Zombie could give that same speech every day of the year. Like Marilyn Manson—his co-headliner on what is being touted as the “Twins of Evil Tour”—he’s spent the better part of his life in costume, assuming the role of deranged barker at the center of a carnival obsessed with ancient monster movies, Z-list actresses’ breasts, and the whimsy of the devil himself.
Though the two scary men at the center of each hour-ish–long set may seem interchangeable, their performances were deeply distinct, both sonically and philosophically.
Manson went up first, leaning heavily on his band’s late-’90s peak and delivering workmanlike renditions of old modern rock staples like “Rock Is Dead” and “The Beautiful People.” Manson made little effort to promote the fact that he put a new album out only a few months ago (it’s called Born Villain, if you’re curious), opting instead to dust off all the old props from the better days, including the giant light-up sign that says “DRUGS” and the black and red pulpit from which Manson delivered “Antichrist Superstar.” Manson must have a really wacky storage unit somewhere, right?
The whole thing was a little rote and sad, mostly because what used to feel scary and transgressive now just feels silly. All the posturing about worshiping the devil and doing copious amounts of narcotics wouldn’t come across so tired and exhausted if Manson didn’t demand to be taken seriously. His schtick is predicated on the idea that people are actually scared of him, and once that was stripped away, he’s just another metal singer.
Zombie, on the other hand, has no such issues, since he’s never expected anyone to actually believe that he drag-raced against Satan or spent his down time trying to re-animate the dead. Free from the tethers of the real world, Zombie’s performance was a pure hedonistic escape into his obsessive electric head. (The fact that he has an entire second life as a movie director probably helps too.)
He bounded about the stage as his longtime band rolled out a continuous torrent of evil hard rock and industrial sludge. The best moments in his catalog carry a death-disco backbeat, which make otherwise twisted tales like “Never Gonna Stop” and “Dragula” into almost joyous shout-and-shimmy-fests.
Zombie seemed vaguely frustrated with the crowd’s relatively low energy output, but then again most of the attendees seemed more like down-from-day-one fans than newly-minted followers. (For a genre that should theoretically appeal to gore-obsessed teens, there were very few young people in attendance at Hammerstein—maybe they were just seeing Sinister at the movie theater across the street?)
It’s a testament to both Manson’s and Zombie’s longevity that their truncated co-headliner sets left some hits sitting in the wings (Zombie’s “Feel So Numb” and Manson’s “I Don’t Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me),” most notably), though each hour had its highlights: Manson’s take on the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” still sounds creepy and brilliant, while Zombie’s one-two punch of the lurchingly heavy “P—y Liquor” and the spry White Zombie remnant “Thunder Kiss ’65” distilled the best aspects of his particular brand of performance. Not all the songs have aged well, but luckily for both Manson and Zombie, evil remains immortal.
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