The Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson. Red Rocks. 07.13.15
There is an image in my head of Billy Corgan standing on the stage at San Diego State’s Open Air Theatre in a dress. It’s Lollapolooza ’94 and Corgan looks like an angry vampire as he changes the words to “Disarm”. “I used to be a little girl!” he spits at the slightly frightened faces in the front rows, threatening to kill the buzz left behind by Beastie Boys. The perpetual dance machine comes to an abrupt halt as The Smashing Pumpkins tear the bubblegum hearts out of the alternative rock kids who were expecting the art school band from the “Today” video. Memories are funny though. I ended up seeing the Pumpkins a half dozen times before I hit my twenties – on big stages at Lollapalooza and the Tibetan Freedom Concert, at intimate secret shows at Soma, and in arenas when there was nothing alternative about their rock anymore – so I can’t be sure that Corgan wore a dress at that particular festival. I can’t even be sure he ever wore a dress (that might have been Perry Farrell), but I do know he was belligerent at many of those shows. I know he was kind of an asshole and he stayed that way as he got older. I also know he changed the words to ‘little girl’, because that is what I was expecting to hear as he was performing an acoustic version of the song at Red Rocks on Monday night. All kinds of images, thoughts, feelings, sounds and colors came flooding back as I realized it’d been almost twenty years since I’d seen the man perform. And then Jeff Schroder came out to assist with “Landslide” and I was buried under the weight of another set of emotions. It was extremely overwhelming…in good way.
The Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson were two of the biggest bands in the world for much of the nineties, and if you listened to alternative rock/metal during that period, those songs are going to mean something to you. So that’s what made Monday night’s show at Red Rocks so special. It wasn’t the bands (or their infamous front men) and it wasn’t the venue (and the rain and the wind), those things helped create the necessary atmosphere, of course, but the true gift of the night was the songs. Billy Corgan has been notorious for keeping the hits (and even older deep cuts) off the menu, preferring to force feed the audience his newer, more experimental material, but the End of Times Tour changed all that. I’m not sure what caused this new-found dedication to giving fans what they want, but I’m not complaining. Maybe some healthy competition drove both artists to take a hard look at their set lists. Whatever the reason, both Marilyn Manson and Smashing Pumpkins performed for the people this time around…and it was a sight to behold!
I’m so bored with the rain at Red Rocks this year, but evidently it’s not quite done with me yet. The sky pissed down on us while we were tailgating. It pissed down on us while we were in line to get in. And it pissed on us sideways as Cage tried to warm thing up with a spitfire set of hostile hip-hop. God must have gotten on Mother Nature’s bad side though, because everything cleared up for the Antichrist Superstar. As the preacher preached about Satan, the wind removed the elaborate backdrop to expose the rocks behind. “Let me hear you Red Rocks!”, Manson demanded in a surprisingly strong voice against the current of air blowing toward the stage. “Deep Six”, from his best album in ages, kicked things off before Manson thanked Denver for staying loyal. I’ve seen Manson perform a few times since I’ve lived in Colorado and he really has a soft spot for the fans who stuck by him when the zealots were trying to crucify him over the Columbine High School massacre. Of course he had nothing to do with that tragedy, but that didn’t stop the death threats from arriving when he’d come through the state. “Disposable Teens” was written about that situation, so it was a fitting dedication to the growing crowd. “mOBSCENE”, “No Reflection” and “Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge” are all great songs as well, and the band performed the hell out of them, but it wasn’t until Manson broke a bottle and cut himself that I thought the show might be slightly different than those I’ve seen since the Dead to the World Tour in ’96. Sure enough, after giving props to Cage and Twiggy, the stilts came out for “Sweet Dreams”, which was pretty cool, but when he gave flight to “Angel With The Scabbed Wings”, I knew we were going down the sweet path of destruction.
Manson gave insult to Jesus in his own personal way…by singing a Depeche Mode song from a pulpit, while girls in American flag thongs twerked all over the stage. He claimed his future so dark that it required shades, before giving everyone a glimpse of the “Dope Show”. “Rock Is Dead” killed some time, but when he busted out that old “Lunchbox” from 1994, his black-clad congregation lined up to take the metal. And the hits kept coming. He burned the bible like a street preacher gone mad…he performed “Antichrist Superstar” like a pre-9/11 prophet..he called out the “Beautiful People” and then he joined them in the audience. It was all over a little too quick, but holy shit, what a show! It was hands down the best performance I’d seen from the band in decades. When the flowers were brought out, as if we were attending a giant funeral, it was almost too much to hope there would be more. But then “Coma White” was administered as the perfect comedown drug. The song was a carefully measured dose of calm, which was exactly what the crowd needed to soothed the savage beast before Smashing Pumpkins took the stage.
Compared to Marlilyn Manson, the Pumpkins employed an extremely striped-down stage setup. When the lights came up on Corgan’s shiny skull, there really wasn’t much to look at. A feeling of disappointment came over me as I pictured the band being an extreme letdown after Manson’s insane set. Corgan has been quoted as saying that he is not a jukebox and he is not going to rehash the past on stage, but when “Freak out! And give in!” were the first words out of his mouth, it sounded exactly like hope. And as “Cherub Rock” led into “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”, and then into “Tonight, Tonight”, it was more than obvious that the return of Jimmy Chamberlin meant the return of the classics as well. Corgan was having a hard time singing “into a hurricane“, and he overestimated the audience’s ability to recite lyrics from songs they hadn’t heard in twenty years, but by the time the set drifted into Monument to an Elegy material, it felt like the band had earned our time. Luckily for us, Corgan didn’t lose himself in his latest poetry, so we were back to singing along with the infinite sadness before we knew it.
There was a lot of chatter on the strange pairing of Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson, but seeing the bands perform together confirmed my stance that although they are not cut from the same cloth, they are from the same time…and they share a fanbase. There were more Manson shirts in the crowd than Pumpkins, and arguments could be made for who deserved the headlining slot, but I didn’t see anyone leave after Manson’s set. The place was pretty packed throughout Corgan’s show, and although the energy level fluctuated up and down based on what year the song came out, everyone stuck with the band through the end. The Pumpkins’ set was no frills, but that was ok, because Manson had already provided all the theater we needed for one evening. Corgan was best when he kept it simple. The solo version of “Disarm”, the Fleetwood Mac cover, “1979” — his voice might not have been pitch perfect, but that was beside the point. Just hearing the songs live, under a clear sky, brought us all back to simpler times. Then they closed out the night out with “Today”, bringing the whole thing full-circle to the first time we ever saw Corgan…as an ice cream man in that video on MTV. That memory inevitably led to the faces of James and Darcy, reminding us just what we were missing, but sometimes nostalgia just feels good. That was the case on Monday night at Red Rocks.
There is nothing frightening about Marilyn Manson anymore…even when he cuts himself and burns bibles, it’s just theater. Billy Corgan isn’t some angst-filled youth raging against the machine anymore either. He’s just a middle-aged bald dude who’s much better at writing songs and playing guitar than he is at making (and keeping) friends. Both artists are household names twenty years after the height of their musical careers because they are larger than life characters. That being said, if the songs weren’t strong enough to stand the test of time, the fans wouldn’t buy tickets to the shows. I never went and saw The Smashing Pumpkins when Corgan revived the name because he didn’t bring the songs with him. I did see Manson quite a few times since his heyday and the shows have been hit-or-miss depending on his set list selection. That’s why it was so great to see the two friendenmies come together to support the fans on this current tour. They really did bring out the best in each other at Red Rocks. And in the process, the fans got something they have been waiting many years for. Here’s to legacy of the 90’s! And here’s to Billy Corgan and Marilyn Manson for keeping it alive a little longer.
Third Day of a Seven Day Binge
Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
Angel With the Scabbed Wings
The Dope Show
Rock Is Dead
The Beautiful People
The Smashing Pumpkins:
Bullet With Butterfly Wings
Drum + Fife
One and All (We Are)
The Everlasting Gaze
The Crying Tree of Mercury
Thru the Eyes of Ruby
Stand Inside Your Love