Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson Put on the Feel-Good Show of the Summer

Smashing Pumpkins, Marilyn Manson, Cage
NRG Arena
July 16, 2015

The pale, skinny man in a corset with his ass hanging out on MTV. The bald man with a guitar and a "Zero" shirt. The alien with red hair and a Ken doll crotch. The vampire in black who thinks rock is dead.

Yeah, we know who Marilyn Manson and Smashing Pumpkins’ front man Billy Corgan were. And if you were alive at the time and you liked alternative music, you probably look back fondly at the time when Manson was the scariest man in music and Corgan seemed able to pull great music out of thin air.

Truth be told, I still find both men to be fascinating, in some ways even more today than when they were at their commercial peak; Manson because he’s the last great boogeyman and Corgan because I’m convinced, because of his work in professional wrestling, that he’s actually a pretty normal dude who likes to pretend he’s weird or shy or standoffish at times just because it amuses him.

It’s a tour that maybe shouldn’t work in theory but kills in practice. Both acts do their own thing the way they would always do, and by being at opposite ends of the performance spectrum, they make for a night that is more of a celebration than one would have guessed if the tour had happened way back when.

Marilyn Manson is always going to be theatrical. It’s what he does. The outfits may not be as elaborate as they used to be, but as long as he’s on the road you can pretty much guarantee he’ll have multiple backdrops and will sing from a podium at some point. The classics are classics for a reason.

Which goes for the set list as well. Teens are still disposable, rock is still dead, the people are still beautiful and sweet dreams are still made of whatever this is. He does have a new album to promote, and “Deep Six” fit in quite nicely as the raging start to the set.

It was an extremely aggressive set, the band coming off as more metal than ever before, and it was a good look. Manson seems really engaged with what he’s doing these days, and there’s something almost adorable about how he seems to relish the part of playing Manson.

But for all the theatrics and hard rock guitars and black outfits, the most striking part of the set was at the very end. There Manson was, on stage alone, singing the chorus of “Come White.” Sure, he was dressed in an outfit that made him look like a monk of sorts, but there was emotion in his voice and when he was done he simply walked off stage. There was something graceful in that good-bye that made the entire production endearing.

Jimmy Chamberlin is back with the Smashing Pumpkins for this tour, and it is the best thing that could have happened to the group. Billy Corgan has done pretty well for himself when it comes to finding hired guns to fill out the ranks of his band, and even though he’s had some solid drummers onstage with him over the past few years, Jimmy is Jimmy, and he takes Corgan’s music to a different level.

That, and a strong catalog, probably explain why Corgan has so much confidence onstage right now. He actually looked like a guy who enjoyed being onstage. During “The Crying Tree of Mercury,” he even put the guitar down and showed off some rock-star moves with his mike. Have you ever seen Billy Corgan swing a microphone around? It’s weird, but a charming weird.

The band was on fire, and while they may not have anything to prove, they did open with “Cherub Rock,” “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” and “Tonight, Tonight” as if to say, “Yeah, we’ve got some pretty good songs. Are you ready?” They also did a wicked, sped-up version of “The Everlasting Gaze” that rocked harder than anything in Manson’s set.

But again the best moment, the one that seemed to really get to people, was a lead singer onstage by himself. Armed with an acoustic guitar, Corgan got maybe the biggest roar of the night as he started “Disarm.” “The killer in me is the killer in you” is a line that’s always going to hit.

For all the darkness or seriousness or jadedness of the music, I pretty much had a grin on my face the entire time. This was a really fun show. These are really good songs. And Manson and Corgan both still have their weird charisma.

So here I’ll say that dreaded n-word: Nostalgia. It’s what got me in the door tonight. And yeah, I know who Marilyn Manson and Billy Corgan were. But at the end of the night, I walked out of the venue really happy with who they are today.

So, How Was the Opener?: A lot of people cheered when Cage said it was his last song. I’m not saying they were being antagonistic toward the man, but they weren’t exactly sad to see him go either.

Personal Bias:
My favorite Smashing Pumpkins song is “Pennies.” I sang “Coma White” really loud and I regret nothing.

The Crowd:
About what you’d picture if you told you to think of the average Marilyn Manson fan. Special shout-out to the guy in my section who kept yelling “Fuck yeah, [noun]!” Big fan of glitter and El Chapo, he was.

Overheard In the Crowd:
“Oh, he read Hannibal!” said someone next to me, in response to Manson saying, “Behold the great red dragon.” I didn’t correct him. But I wanted to.

Random Notebook Dump:
Antichrist Superstar came out in October of 1996. Marilyn Manson would go on to become the great boogeyman of modern music. You know how the story goes, including the whole Columbine thing. So what does it say about the American experience that in under 20 years, we went from a society where the scariest thing in music was a pasty white guy who sang about being the Antichrist to a society today where music’s biggest villain is a black man whose greatest crimes are speaking his mind and marrying the girl of his dreams? You didn’t think that “The Beautiful People” sample in “Black Skinhead” was just a random thing, did you?
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Cory Garcia is a Contributing Editor for the Houston Press. He once won an award for his writing, but he doesn't like to brag about it. If you're reading this sentence, odds are good it's because he wrote a concert review you don't like or he wanted to talk pro wrestling.
Contact: Cory Garcia