Marilyn Manson's primary talent seems to be pushing people's buttons. With his earlier work, he went out of his way for shock value, mixing imagery of serial killers, bondage and fascism with straight-ahead goth and the roar of heavy metal. The 14-year-olds cheered as he tore pages from the Bible and wiped himself with the American flag, and such antics had the happy side effect of infuriating conservatives and fundamentalist Christians.
Equal parts marketing genius and huckster with a traveling circus, Manson seems to understand that outrage generates publicity, and publicity sells CDs and concert tickets. Charlotte, North Carolina, officials are trying to prevent his tour from invading their town. And citing a "moral obligation," Roy Bernardi, the mayor of Syracuse, New York, has threatened to block the permit of the venue where Manson is scheduled to play two weeks after the tour hits Houston. (Never mind the obvious First Amendment issues. Doesn't the mayor have anything better to do?)
But the real news about Manson's Mechanical Animals tour is this: With it, Manson proves he's capable of more than dramatic gestures. His third full-length CD represents a shift away from the screech and growl that permeated his mostly unlistenable first two records, and toward the flash and fashion of '70s metal. Manson's gone Hollywood, reinventing himself as a David Bowie-worshipping, androgynous glitter-rocker. With the semi-hit "Dope Show" -- and a new pro-drug stance overshadowing his anti-Christian rhetoric -- Manson stakes out new, more promising territory. And who knew he could sing?
Manson performs Wednesday, November 4, at the Aerial Theater at Bayou Place, 520 Texas. $25. Doors open at 8 p.m. For tickets, call the box office at 230-1600 or Ticketmaster at 629-3700.