Concert Reviews

Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson Vied for Aging Goths' Hearts at Gexa

Smashing Pumpkins
With Marilyn Manson
Gexa Energy Pavilion, Dallas
Wednesday, July 15, 2015

There were two camps at Gexa Energy Pavilion on Wednesday night: On one side were the fans wearing black lipstick and on the other were those with "Zero" T-shirts. It was a night where two titans of the '90s, the Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson, held sway for one of the summer's more ingenious double bills. The Pumpkins held a nostalgia factor, while Manson inspired unspoken curiosity, specifically on how he'd bring about his famously bizarre shock factor.

Not that either was bound to shock their fans much at this stage. Aging Gen-X'ers have seen it all — hell, Miley Cyrus has out-Mansoned Manson at this point. (It's been a long time since he was blamed for the Columbine shootings.) But he lived up to his legend. For those who haven't kept up with Manson since before he did the awkward glam goth thing around the time of his Mechanical Animals album, he may be hard to recognize without his ass cheeks hanging out. He started the show freakishly early, and there was something disturbingly unnatural about seeing him during the daytime, like a nightmare taking place during an afternoon nap.

Ever the satanic performance artist, Manson was in top form, emerging with stilts on his legs and arms for "Sweet Dreams." That's where he really began to stir his pot, still tugging on people's politically correct sensibilities, asking for bras from the audience (and cheering with a "hallelujah" when he got them) and putting forth a full-blown Nazi-inspired production while singing from a podium, even going so far as burning a Bible onstage.
Despite his sacrilege, he was well received and he owned the stage. Even among Pumpkins fans there seemed to be a clear appreciation for his theatrics and larger-than-death persona. The crowd sang along to "The Beautiful People" with natural cheeriness, like it was a campfire sing-along to Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline." He followed up with a captivating performance of "Coma White."

Granted, Manson is no tenor, but his vocals have power. It's easy to forget that, buried underneath all that makeup and those ungodly rumors, there's a musician with a strong point of view. Screaming statements like "Rock is not dead," it appeared he'd put many into a state of cult-like worship. The stage was covered in strange iconography, including a church-like setup that depicted saints with his face. While Manson may very well be an "Anti-Christ Superstar," he proved that he's a superstar, nonetheless.
Once Manson's freak show had concluded, it was time for Corgan to take over, joined on this tour by the Pumpkins' original drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. Whoever had been there for Manson was won over the second Corgan began "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," his opening declaration — "The world is a vampire" — making a perfect uniting slogan for the night. Corgan hasn't lost the youthful nasal quality to his voice, though it sometimes became comically acute, wavering with a hardcore elfish tone. He started off with neo-classics like "Ava Adore" and "Tonight," with a calculatedly pleasant level of rock. In contrast to Manson, the Pumpkins' stage and act was devoid of much visual effort, placing Corgan firmly at center stage.

Not that he saw much need to speak to the audience. For all his online ramblings, Corgan was at a loss for inspiring live speech, most of his banter no more complicated than an "Ooh, party" or "Thank you for enjoying our music." Oddly, the Pumpkins singer appeared less human than Manson himself: With his black clothes and a purple light reflecting off his round head, he had the look of an alien or a dark cartoon. He left the affect to the music, in particular during the middle portion of the set when he performed a surprising solo version of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide." Later, with "1979," he managed to inspire his seen-it-all fans to nod (though not sing) along.

Chamberlin, who's resurfaced with the Pumpkins after a drug history that rivals drummer Keith Moon's, kept a head-banging rhythm and added an extra air of nostalgia to the night. But despite the marked stylistic differences between the two groups, they could at times have seemed interchangeable, as they reached equally hard levels of havoc. It was apt, then, that it all finished in a frenzy, with a sloppy, distorted rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," à la Jimi Hendrix.

Manson's and Corgan's careers may have spanned the last few decades, but they'll inevitably be tied in memory to the '90s. In an eclectic decade that saw trends both memorable and regrettable, Corgan and Manson stood out from many of their counterparts, particularly from those who'd simply jump up and down screaming nonsense for effect. They remain some of the very few from that time whose music and artistry are still interesting enough to allow them to perform today, and they can do so with their alien heads held high.

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Eva Raggio is the Dallas Observer's music and arts editor, a job she took after several years of writing about local culture and music for the paper. Eva supports the arts by rarely asking to be put on "the list" and always replies to emails, unless the word "pimp" makes up part of the artist's name.
Contact: Eva Raggio

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