Thursday, April 18, 2019

We Twins of Evil: Manson and Zombie at the Budweiser Stage

Nothing says summer like a mid-week flight to a heavy metal show, and despite the nine-to-five grind, a judicious vacation day has me at Ottawa International for a mid-day flight to see Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie’s Twins of Evil tour.  

Landing at Pearson, the city is a sultry twenty-eight degrees. I hop on the Rocket to Kipling station, overnight bag in hand, sweat starting to speckle my hairline. I text Dave to let him know I’ve landed safely and am en route to the hotel. I transfer to the subway, eventually emerging at College Station to a message from Dave saying he’s on his way. I check in at the hotel, and heading upstairs, I pass a crowd of young hockey players in the process of checking out; arriving at the room, I open the door to be greeted by a pungent whiff of eau de garçon and gym bags—the hockey players. Returning downstairs, I inform the concierge of the tangible funk, and am shortly given a set of keys for a new room and breakfast on the house in the morning.

Dave ends up arriving later than expected, but when he arrives we sit, dispense libations, and start to catch up on life. I delve into the darkness of late, something squirming in my gut apprehensively. Looking up at Dave, I see him regarding me with compassion and concentration. He apologizes for the darkness, and though it’s nothing for him to apologize for, I smile my thanks for his sympathy. He tells me of his own trials and tribulations, and whipping out some whisky, we give each other a consolatory embrace, followed by a quick kiss between whisky glasses before draining them to their depths. With that, we move to depart, the hour upon us. With a final snort of whisky, we head downstairs and into the Uber awaiting.

The Budweiser Stage is only ten minutes away, but on the ride, some forgotten cue causes me to recall and read a piece I stitched together after my ultimate return to the Suburban sore, the story starting with me meeting him. A kind of nervous nostalgia takes hold as I relapse into that place and time, and knowing full well how close the first Idea is (conceivably, delusively one short subway ride north), I wonder with febrile intensity where I am, what I’m doing, and why this sacrosanct notion feels so close and yet so far away. Arriving at the entryway to the Stage, I terminate the browser on my phone and banish the memory from my mind as best I can.

We queue at will call to get our tickets, and amidst the excited chatter, we overhear two women bedecked in black behind us saying something about Manson cancelling. “Excuse me?” I ask, and one of them repeats herself: Manson’s just cancelled his set at the very last minute due to a quote-unquote ‘unforeseen illness’. “Shit—no kidding?” Dave says, and the girls nod grimly. “They’re only giving a refund if you leave now,” the other adds. “Which is such bullshit,” the first sighs. Dave and I sidebar, and agree that for our cut-rate price of $20 a head, thanks to some one-off summer sale on select shows (thank you very much Ticketbastard), Zombie is still well-worth staying for.

Passing the gates and flashing our tickets, we stop at a Bacardi booze-shack and order something to put a little more hair on our chests. As we chat with the women working the booth, we notice we’re being given a discernibly heavy-handed pour, to our delight. Downing the vile yet voluminous spirit, we head to the centre of the lawn and stake out some territory to take in the show, an accompanying tallboy to go for us both. Lighting a deftly-spun lance, we ready ourselves for the curtain to drop.

As the ember dies, ‘Sawdust in the Blood’ starts to thunder across the speakers, the lights dimming and the crowd roaring; despite Manson’s omission, the outdoor venue is still thickly packed. As the intro fades into ‘Sinners Inc.’ and ‘Call of the Zombie’, the band appears, myriad screens scattered across the stage, each splattered with B-horror and pentagrams glowing red, black, and white. With a crashing count-in from Ginger Fish on the kit, they launch into ‘Meet the Creeper’ from Hellbilly Deluxe. The crowd chants along with Zombie as he belts through the chorus, his vocals modulated and distorted into a growl above and beyond his natural gruffness. ‘Superbeast’ from the same album is next, John 5 eagerly chugging away at the iconic riff, further spectacles splayed across all the screens littering the stage. Following that is ‘Scum of the Earth’ from The Sinister Urge (a tour debut of the song), its refrain and manic guitar notably memorable. ‘Well Everybody’s Fucking in a UFO’ from The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser is next (one of Zombie’s recent nominal proclivities being as prolix as possible), and although the musicianship is on point, the subject matter is a little more conspicuously campy.

The catchy, albeit overplayed ‘Living Dead Girl’ from Hellbilly Deluxe is next, Ginger and John 5 and Piggy D all well in the pocket, the crowd singing along uproariously to the huge radio hit. The song is an icon from Zombie’s heyday, and with so many songs from his debut album making the setlist, one wonders how much this implicates something like his greatest works being behind him, or if maybe this is just the reality of summer stadium tours—especially when headlining with another big act. ‘In The Age of the Consecrated Vampire We All Get High’, also from The Electric Warlock, is doubtless a reference to the cult of Christ, but again, it’s hard to tell quite how much thought is put into some of these newer hits. ‘Dead City Radio’ from the Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor is next, which is notably poppy and catchy—and admittedly, this is a big part of Zombie’s caché these days—commercial curb appeal.

‘More Human Than Human’ from White Zombie’s Astrocreep 2000 is next, an instantaneous crowd—and author—pleaser, Piggy D’s bass concussive, John 5’s guitar soaring, and Ginger’s drumming on point and groovy. The band then segues into ‘Never Gonna Stop’ from The Sinister Urge, a nod to A Clockwork Orange and another setlist staple. ‘The Hideous Exhibitions of a Dedicated Gore Whore’ off The Electric Warlock is next, forgettable compared to the more classic offerings. ‘Ging Gang Gong’ from Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor follows, another of Zombie’s more catchy but unremarkable singles of late.

The buttery but unfortunately wet vocal distortion still prominently features on ‘House of 1000 Corpses’ from The Sinister Urge, the song eerie and bluesy with John 5 hammering on and pulling off the signature riff as Zombie purrs and growls. At the end of the song, John 5 launches into a massive guitar solo, shredding so fast you can practically see the sparks from his fingertips; Zombie takes the time to do some fan service to those in the front of the pit, high-fiving and greeting the fans up close. As John 5 wraps up, the band launches into ‘Thunder Kiss ‘65’ from White Zombie’s La Sexorcisto Vol. 1, another crowd and author-pleaser, Dave and I only slightly buzzed by this point and probably belting out the lyrics in time with Zombie and crowd.After the song winds down, Zombie addresses the crowd and thanks us for coming out tonight, offering an apology for the last minute lineup change, but says they’re happy to keep going and give us our money’s worth. 

Zombie gestures to John 5, who starts to warble a familiar riff on his guitar, a light-up Telecaster that blinds to the back seats and beyond—‘Sweet Dreams’ by the Eurthymics, Manson’s iconic cover of which we will no longer miss out on. To see John 5 and Ginger belting this out is any Manson fan’s dream; both musicians were staples in Manson’s heyday, and so this is about as close as one can get to going back to some time in ‘98–‘01 to witness them playing this together. John 5 pummels every note of the song perfectly, his solo transcendental and affecting the delusion that he never left the band. Reaching the end of the song, I think Dave and I are both howling along, and Ginger batters his kit in a cataclysmic outro reminiscent of his time on the Last Tour on Earth for Manson’s Mechanical Animals.

Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’ (from the eponymous album) is next, a common cover of Zombie’s, followed by the Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’, for which Manson and Zombie recorded a cover together just prior to the start of the tour. ‘The Lords of Salem’ is next, unfortunately the only song from Educated Horses, John 5’s guitar slow, methodical, and destructive as Ginger pummels away at his kit. With what seems like an ultimate scream from Zombie, the set threatens to be over, but as the lights dim, the screens start to blare a trailer for Zombie’s new film, 3 From Hell, before the band returns to the stage for an encore, launching into the ‘Dragula’ from Hellbilly Deluxe, inarguably Zombie’s most famous hit. At its end, Ginger mashes the kit calamitously, Zombie, John 5, and Piggy D bowing to the crowd before exiting the stage, music slowly and quietly piping onstage from the front of house.

Turning to Dave, we both grin—despite the delay and cancellation Zombie’s played a jumbo set that’s run almost ninety minutes long. Well-filled with good spirits and rock n’ roll, we head back to the gates and into an Uber that arrives with unexpected swiftness, carrying us back to the hotel. In need of nourishment, the alcohol starting to catch up with us, I order a pizza at a nearby joint to soak some of the liquor up. Dave uncorks a Toscana, and as the wine mellows and we delve further into our discussion, so do we.

When the time comes, we descend to the streets to retrieve the pie, and arriving at the place, pony up for the pizza. It’s in the seconds following this that Dave grins and snorts, noting the presence of some chitinous chums crawling on the front of the glass display case. He points them out to me, then to two patrons waiting for their food, and then the employees behind the counter, none of whom seem terribly surprised or apologetic about them—or even aware. Amazed and bemused by how disinterested the staff are to this blatant health code violation, we head back to the hotel, arguing about whether or not our food is fit to consume. I tell Dave that it was cooked to temperature in an oven, and as long as we keep drinking, it should kill any lingering bacteria that may or may not be present—and besides, we’re starving at this hour and can’t be bothered to chase down alternative grub. The Toscana is shortly polished off, along with the majority of the potentially arthropodic pizza, and before long, we retire, succumbing to the depressants.

Feeling only a little worse for wear the next morning, I down a gallon of water and recline in the bed for a while longer. Eventually Dave wakes, and we make our way downstairs for breakfast with some thirty odd minutes to spare til its close. Shovelling down some eggs and fruit with a hearty cup of coffee, we recall the night fondly and discuss our plans for the future yet yawning before us. When we finish eating, we return upstairs, Dave grabbing his bag and bidding me farewell and godspeed. 

I dial down to the desk to extend my check out, and use the extra time to rest further. When one o’clock rolls around, I head to a belated birthday lunch with my aunt. Meeting her just outside of Bloor station, we stroll to the Four Seasons, which quickly makes last night’s hotel seem something of a crackhouse: Arabic-inspired geometric lattices shroud the lobby, dark walls warmly lit by subdued lighting, elegant print-bearing settees scattered around the lobby and lounge. Heading upstairs to Café Boulud, Moira orders a bottle of chablis, and although flinty and light, the volume of ethanol consumed only some few short hours ago slows my pace considerably. She orders the tartine de saumon fumé, myself the cabillaud, and we talk about the state of one another’s writing, the family, life. In too short a span, I find myself bidding her goodbye and heading back onto the subway, bloated from the fine fare and dessert, the grapefruit givre an eerie, Dahmerish dessert with grapefruit sorbet, rose loukoum, and fine-spun sesame halva-hair braided atop the grapefruit husk bowl—admittedly freakishly delicious.

En route to Pearson, a familiar lassitude takes hold—alone, in transit, and heading off into the infinite abyss stretching above us into space. A final leftover tallboy gurgles down my throat, and while waiting for the Rocket from Kipling, I bitterly acknowledge I’m abandoning a foolish, fleeting opportunity to trace the Idea concealed in this city. But what are the odds, I try to tell myself—is there really any chance of those stars aligning, that supernova unfolding?

It’s not like you wound up in Halifax a few years ago, I remind myself, the day before a decisive birthday, hoping, praying, craving you might be that lucky.

As I leave the earth beneath me, soaring into the domain of the gods and zephyrs, I know this lie is a necessary self-deception, the desperation I desire—require—demand.

Saluting Apollo, I return to the superposition, the toxin of false hope still somewhere in my system.