Devil Take the Foremost

This night clearly belonged to Slayer. But a caveat: I'm a dues-paying member of the Slayer fan club, and Marilyn Manson's songs have never done a thing for me, so it's possible my judgment only reflects my taste and prejudices—mine and those of the guy behind me, who during one of Manson's numerous between-song set and costume changes, hollered, "FUCK YOU! MORE SLAYER! 'ANGEL OF DEATH!'"

Marilyn has got some gumption following Slayer every night of this "co-headlining" tour, his first public activity in a couple of years. Slayer are famous from Kansas to Nepal as the most heavy, fearsome live outfit on the globe, and the dudes lived up to their reputation Friday at Verizon.

The band took the stage right after 8 p.m., early for a Slayer set. Once the mix, which started out muddy, began to clear up (around the second song, "War Ensemble"), Dave Lombardo's double bass drums provided you with a feeling of being kicked repeatedly in the chest (singer/bassist Tom Araya apparently wasn't kidding when he asked the crowd if we were ready to get beaten up; Lombardo had probably the loudest live drum sound I've ever heard).

In some respects, watching Slayer is like witnessing an athletic event or military operation. Araya (who still nails the famous shriek at the beginning of "Angel of Death") howls lyrics written by King, Hanneman and himself as he and Lombardo pound out the physically demanding rhythms of the band's songs. Meanwhile, King and Hanneman trade dexterous solos in the distinctive, atonal style they have perfected. The group, not the individual, is the unit.

Sitting next to me was 21-year-old Marilyn Manson fan Gustavo Azua, who, having learned that I was reviewing the show, made the following unsolicited declaration, speaking slowly and deliberately as I transcribed his words: "THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I HAVE EVER SEEN SLAYER. IT DOESN'T GET NO BETTER. THEY ARE MASTERS OF THEIR MUSIC. ANY COVER BAND WOULD JUST BE DISAPPOINTING. THEY FUCKING ROCK." Talk about a true testimonial—I didn't even have to ask the dude.

Marilyn Manson's set was elaborately staged and choreographed. Manson performed one song stripper-dancing like Madonna atop an enormous high chair; during another song, a realistic, female humanoid robot walked on the stage pushing a cart with a cake on it—only she walked offstage without her head, which Manson had removed and addressed, for a time, in song. This and a ludicrously goofy boxing set for "The Fight Song," which Manson performed in silver hood and gloves, recalled the decadent mid-1970s tours of Alice Cooper and David Bowie. Manson's corseted, pigtailed, striped-stockinged audience seemed to be delivered into some kind of Satanic ecstasy by the whole thing, but I was mostly bored.

Even delivered in the persona of a boxer thundering from his ring, "I'm not a slave to a god that doesn't exist" just sounds whiny, and the music came across like an undifferentiated wash of glam clichés that didn't add up to memorable songs.

That's just me, though; I never got why people liked Manson's version of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams" in the first place. Annie Lennox's chilly Eurosoul delivery is far scarier and more dramatic than Manson's hammy, tortured-white-dude-with-piercings reading could ever be.

After Manson played his breakthrough hit "The Beautiful People" and the audience was showered with confetti, the lights came up, a stately classical theme spun over the PA, and everyone immediately headed for the exits. What happened to the obligatory demand for an encore, or are audiences just so well-trained that they get up and leave when cued by house lights and recorded music?


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