Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson
Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre
When Marilyn Manson stepped on to a smoke-filled stage at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre at 7:58 p.m. on Thursday, it was still light out. The sun was beginning to set behind the mostly empty venue, and there were almost definitely more people in the parking lot and the food court than in their seats.
Something about it seemed wrong, and it might've thrown Manson off of his game a little bit.
A decade ago, Manson was still feared in suburban households across America. He was still evil incarnated for parents whose children (presumably roughly around the age of 14) found comfort in his music.
That's just not the case anymore. Manson is still one hell of a performer, but he's not the rumor-laden androgynous rock star who terrified middle America. His pure villain status has been traded in for a more endearing role that makes him an almost-sympathetic figure who realizes how much of the world sees him (reminiscent of the "Twisty the Clown" character from American Horror Story: Freak Show). For that matter, given the singer's departure from his former ghastly appearance, it seemed likely that at least one Smashing Pumpkins fan who wasn't familiar with Manson thought "Hey look, that guy from Sons of Anarchy is opening the show."
Thankfully, after opening up his set with 'Deep Six' off his latest album, The Pale Emperor, Manson gave the rapidly growing crowd what they wanted, classics such as 'Disposable Teens' and 'Mobscene' broken up by the trademark snark and self-aware hubris that middle-aged Manson has become known for. He didn't seem all that into the performance, but the showman didn't mind catering to his fans by smearing his own blood on his face and blowing giant snot rockets during the anthematic choruses of the hits.
Just when it looked like Manson was somewhat frustrated and disinterested after the crowd wasn't excited by his new single, "Third Day of a Seven Day Binge," the performer briefly left the stage, only to come back on stilts to sing his version of "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)."
The stilts marked the beginning of various obscene costume, set, and prop changes that help bring out Manson's best. From the butcher knife microphone, white powder, and giant backdrop of himself used for classics like "The Dope Show" to the burning bible and Nazi-esque podium used for "Antichrist Superstar," it was clear that Manson was doing his best to channel his highly produced legendary shows of yesteryear as opposed to some of his more recent "intimate" performances. He never hit the same intensity that made his earlier concerts so memorable, but the second half of the set was significantly better than the semi-uninspired beginning.
In a moment that only Manson could pull off, the 46-year-old got the biggest laugh of the night after implying that the audience could now be accused of causing school shootings because they helped him sing "Lunchbox." The most controversial rock star of the last 20 years then wrapped up his hour-long set with "The Beautiful People" before riling the crowd up for one more round of applause and leaving the stage.
With Manson off of the stage at 9:05 p.m., the stagehands hurried to get the Smashing Pumpkins' minimalist stage ready so the band could start their set with 'Cherub Rock' at 9:30 p.m. on the dot.
As Billy Corgan and associates bounced from one hit to another with the best of their '90s catalog, such as "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," "Tonight, Tonight," and "Ava Adore," it became clear that the Pumpkins will sound nearly flawless until Corgan is too old to perform anymore.
Only once throughout the set did Corgan stop to address the audience, and that was only to thank everyone for coming out and inform the near-full crowd that they'd be playing a lot of music instead of him talking to them. The bald frontman may be the polar opposite of Manson, maintaining a relatively bland business-casual look throughout the whole set, but never missing a note or acting the least bit disinterested.
Over the next handful of songs, Corgan mixed a couple of newer tracks in with crowd favorites such as "Zero" and "Mayonaise" before giving the rest of his band a break and picking up an acoustic guitar.
The acoustic versions of "Disarm" and "Landslide" that followed were two of the better live tracks you'll hear anyone play anywhere. Hell, Stevie Nicks would be hard-pressed to do an unplugged version of her own song with more emotion, precision, and musical skill than Corgan demonstrated on Thursday night.
Corgan and friends plugged back in for "1979" before moving on to some less fan-friendly tracks, like "Run2Me" from last year's Monuments to an Elegy, "Thru the Eyes of Ruby," (the 21st song on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness) and "United States" (2007's Zeitgeist) to close out their 90-minute set.
To start the encore, Corgan made a joke about "all of the Lakers fans who leave after the third quarter" clearing out after the band finished playing "1979" (he was right, there was a mass exodus after the stretch of singles). He then offered to make a DeAndre Jordan joke before realizing that most of his fans might not be up to date on NBA free agency and choosing to finish the night with "Geek U.S.A." instead.
Ultimately, Manson and Corgan (who've been both friends and enemies over the last 20 years) are more similar than they are different, even if their fan bases don't overlap as much as the tour might imply.
Manson is more about the performance and Corgan is clearly all about the music, but they're both icons of a time that's passed. They're both members of the dying "rock star" breed, and they've both shifted from the angry young men they once were into the more mature middle-aged performers they are now.
Oh, and they're both rocking some serious dad bod.