Monday, October 3, 2016

The Living Lazarites: Manson and Slipknot at the Bell Centre

The metro to Bonaventure is laden with metalheads in Slipknot shirts when I get on at Beaubien. When I arrive at the front of the Bell Centre, I flag down my friends and head into the venue. Post-Bataclan, there are no chances taken, and the Antichrist present doesn’t exactly defuse any possible ideological tensions. Despite the metal scanners and massive audience, we are quickly ushered into the fold, shorn of our tickets. Sneaking up stage right, we get close to the stage, and are shortly bombarded by the baseball-capped Of Mice and Men, who blast the audience for a solid thirty minutes. They put on a strong show, but there’s no denying the main attractions.

Breaking away from our toe-hold in the pit, I leave to break bread with another friend who’s made it out to the show, but shortly return to the pit to get up close and personal with Manson. The stage is shrouded before its unveiling, blasting what I believe to be Mozart’s Requiem with full pomp and ceremony, before descending into the crushing crash count-in of Angel with the Scabbed Wings, which is, incidentally, my virginal experience of the song live. Manson spits with fury, and Paul Wiley and Twiggy are in concert with Gil Sharone, a rhythmic thrashing machine. Disposable Teens follows, but as the song progresses, Manson appears to tire, frequently holding the mic aloft to the audience in hope of them being able to finish the lines for him. Following in the succession of singles (Angel with the Scabbed Wings the notable exception), Manson launches into No Reflection (which I was fortunate enough to witness at its first ever live debut at the Golden Gods in 2011). It’s a high-octane riff, but Manson’s fatigue fails to dissipate. Manson does what one might loosely call a sax solo before launching into mOBSCENE, which has the crowd singing along en masse, but Wiley’s guitar tone isn’t as lush as it could be, given the song’s origin in the slickly, Skold-mixed The Golden Age of Grotesque. Deep Six is next in the set, a raucous favourite from The Pale Emperor, but with only Wiley on guitar, rather than Tyler Bates and Wiley combined, it lacks some of its more characteristic charm and harmonies.

Marilyn Manson — Photo Credit: Author
Manson then saunters off-stage; my friend asks me if he’s high or drunk, to which I admit, “Probably both.” However, Wiley appears to be having some issues with his mic or guitar; after some ten-odd minutes waiting, Manson and the band reappear on stage, Wiley softly warbling the intro to Sweet Dreams as Manson clambers onstage in massive stilts and crutches. He’s lacking the helmet-mic so often sported during the Dead to the World Tour in ‘97, but it’s still a haunting spectacle. Missing from this interlude are This Is The New Shit and The Dope Show, both unfortunate omissions (Cupid Carries a Gun is another ostensible omission, based on later setlists).
Antichrist Superstar follows Sweet Dreams, for which Manson’s pulpit is rolled out, the shock banners and insignias unveiled. As the lights dim, Manson strolls out, a flaming bible clutched limpidly as he ascends the pulpit, and despite his exhaustion, he is all fire and all brimstone as he lumbers through the abject screams of its chorus. The song ends with thousands of fists in the air, bellowing “HEY”, before the roadies wheel the pulpit away, re-covering the shock symbols. Manson gestures for Twiggy to bring over a drum head, and as Manson beats upon it, it comes to vaguely resemble the beat for The Beautiful People, the riotous finale (Coma White is sadly omitted as well, based on the set he will perform in the nights to come). When it’s over, it feels as if the set was only a moderate success — his exhaustion and the tepid transitions between songs hampered the performance nearly every step of the way. However, Slipknot is on next, and their production value and professionalism have grown strongly.

After a lengthy, sweaty wait near the security barrier, muted hands push from behind the curtain Slipknot’s crew erected to conceal the stage’s setup. The set begins with Fashion by the late and great David Bowie, an interesting choice for the Des Moines-based nu metal band. They tease further with their Be Prepared for Hell, accompanied by footage Clown is doubtless responsible for filming and editing. As they launch into The Negative One, hundreds of people behind me throng forwards for the anticipated push forwards. Slipknot then cut to Disasterpiece, and riotous madness takes hold once again, each successive song an attempt to keep the horde at bay, to keep one’s head free of crowd-surfing boots and elbows. Eyeless is next — more pushing, more swaying left, right, backwards, and when it comes to the chorus, the crowd is deafening as they scream, “YOU CAN’T SEE CALIFORNIA WITHOUT MARLON BRANDO’S EYES!”

Slipknot — Photo Credit: Author
Returning to their new album, the band turns to Skeptic, one of their many tributes to the also late and great Paul Gray — “the world’ll never see another crazy motherfucker like you!” Before I Forget follows, the crowd once again ravenous for collisions and self-abandon; “I was a creature before I could stand!” echoes through the venue resoundingly. Killpop comes afterwards, the would-be Vermillion of 0.5 The Gray Chapter, albeit with more superficial lyrics from Taylor. Dead Memories — a melodic favourite follows, before some serious Iowa material — The Heretic Anthem. Suddenly it gets very hard to breathe with hundreds of sweat-soaked bodies searching for a means of squeezing even closer to the stage. Psychosocial doesn’t alleviate the sensation, but its melodic chorus grants some brief respite. Pulse of the Maggots quickly undoes that as raucous clapping takes place in tempo behind the warbling air siren preceding the breakdown. Left Behind is followed by The Devil in I, another fan favourite that showcases Slipknot’s talent at blending melody and bellowing unabashedly. Wait and Bleed and (sic) bring the formal set to a close, but after a brief respite, the band reappears for their crushingly heavy encore: Surfacing, Duality, and Spit It Out, each one heavier than the last, the customary crouching and leaping up at the breakdown of Spit It Out a highly difficult proposition when there are only two people and half a metre between you and the security barrier. Closing the set is a barrage of thunderous blasts from Jay Weinberg, who tosses a handful of drumsticks before exiting the stage, the house lights and roadies shortly following.

Getting out of the venue presents no real difficulty, but it takes me a minute to locate my other friend. We grab a pint at a nearby pub, and I immediately down a full glass of water, thoroughly dehydrated, sweat-slicked, and stoned (friends of the pit perennially providing). We talk about Corey Taylor’s understandable lack of energy, given his recent neck surgery. “Only Corey Taylor would go on tour after fresh neck surgery” I say, and my friend laughs. The night was enjoyable, but both acts are beginning to show their age. The crowd and the world at large are waiting for the new larger than life rockstars, but few record labels seem ready or willing to take any risks. And so I begin to wonder: is Gene Simmons right? Is this the beginning of the end for rock and its derivatives? Are Kanye and Beyonce and Justin Bieber the extent of what labels are willing to bankroll?

On the bus back to Ottawa the next morning, I light an orison for the future of heavy metal; the artists are there, they just need the support of the fans and industry. However, counterculture will always necessarily be the minority, and who really cares for minority sub-genres when sales and merch are the last metric of artistic success? Art has fallen from its status as a life-giver and life-enricher. Until we come to realize the absolute, physical necessity of art in the world, it seems rock stars will continue to be a dying breed.

But Slipknot has a simple answer to the dire straits metal seems to be in nowadays; “WE WON’T DIE, WE WON’T DIE!” — not quietly, at any rate.