A Shock Wave From Spokane
Courtney Love flashed her breasts once. Marilyn Manson mooned the fans a half dozen times. And Monster Magnet singer Dave Wyndorf gave the world the finger so often there was no way to keep count.
Yes, the highly anticipated Manson-Hole tour got off to a crowd-pleasing start Sunday at the Spokane Arena.
All this juvenilia aside, there were some spectacular moments, along with some disappointments, in the kickoff of what is sure to be one of the most discussed rock tours of the ‘90s--a two-month series of dates that includes Southern California stops later this month.
It’s certainly a bold pairing: In a decade short on strong personalities in rock, Love and Manson are performers with postgraduate degrees in provocation.
Love is so daring and defiant that she often alienates her own fans. Lately that includes those disillusioned by the former punk goddess’ embrace of Hollywood glamour. Manson at least follows the more traditional path to teen-rock stardom: He just shakes up the parents with his anything-for-a-thrill antics.
The problem with these powerful images is that the personalities sometimes overshadow the music and obscure its quality.
Both Hole and Manson came up with superior albums last year, and the chance to see them explore their more mature themes and sounds was one of the most inviting aspects of the tour.
But Manson didn’t expand any musical horizons on Sunday, aiming his show-closing presentation at his hard-core fans. In the “Mechanical Animals” album, he moved from the kid-stuff level of Alice Cooper to the more challenging and liberating status of David Bowie, but on stage he didn’t stray far from the old game plan.
If playing to this crowd made Manson less than the album promised, Hole benefited from the tension of trying to survive the hostility of his fans.
Sunday’s audience was mostly teenage, mostly male and mostly wearing T-shirts of Manson or some kindred spirit such as Korn or cable TV wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
During Hole’s set, these fans weren’t caught up in the issue of punk vs. Hollywood. They just didn’t seem crazy about listening to a mostly female band. One young fan even made his own T-shirt to wear, writing his message in ink: “I paid to see Marilyn Manson and Monster Magnet.”
Monster Magnet, which opened the bill, mixed anti-authority rants and taboo tales in just the right dosage and decibel level to serve as the perfect appetizer for Manson.
When Hole walked onstage, lots of the teens picked up where Magnet’s Wyndorf left off and gave Love and her three bandmates the finger themselves.
But Hole showed no fear and played more sharply than ever, unleashing a sonic attack that combined its old punk intensity with some of the soaring, melodic touches that distinguish the “Celebrity Skin” album.
Wearing a sort of chic punk mix of black leather pants and lace accessories, Love was a remarkably intuitive performer. She bonded with some members of the audience and taunted others, and she paced defiantly as she sang, leaving no room to deny her rock ‘n’ roll credentials or will. While she always had the passion of a great rocker, on Sunday she showed the concentration and focus of one.
The most dramatic moments came near the end of the set, first with “Boys on the Radio,” a song from the album that salutes both the male bands she heard and her dreams of being in the business. At one point in the song, Love pulled down her dress. In the past, this gesture has always smacked of exploitation, but this time she was in such command that it seemed to be part of a victory statement--an injection of female pride into this testosterone-filled setting,
Love and guitarist Eric Erlandson were even bold enough during the encore to do “Northern Star,” a six-minute acoustic song from the new album. It’s a statement of closure in wake of the suicide of her husband, Kurt Cobain, and it’s probably the most personal song she has done. The audience not only listened quietly to this demanding work, but a few fans near the edge of the stage also held up lighters in salute.
If the audience pushed Hole to new heights, it seemed to restrict Manson. Where Love tries to win the crowd to her side, Manson makes sure he satisfies his audience, leaning toward spectacle in ways that suggest role-playing rather than passion. The exception was a fabulous stilt-walking segment that captured the search for humanity outlined in “Mechanical Animals.”
There were some moments when the new music shone--including the moody, wry “I Don’t Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me)” and the anthem-like “The Dope Show"--but the new music didn’t define the show. It was simply mixed in with the old songs, and Manson didn’t do anything personally to telegraph his growth.
You got the feeling that he’s not secure with the new songs, almost tucking them in and hoping that no one will notice that he’s moving on. That’s a shame, because these songs are marvelous updates of the icy isolation of Bowie’s ‘70s period, and they are worthy of his audience’s attention.
Manson is a master showman, and this stop was in some ways a dress rehearsal for both acts. Additional production elements will be added as the tour proceeds. While Hole seems to be in a groove, Manson still needs to make his. He needs to show us his passion, not his butt.
* Marilyn Manson, Hole and Monster Magnet play March 13 at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, 2695 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, 7 p.m. $35. (714) 704-2500. Also March 14 at the Great Western Forum, 3900 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood, 7 p.m. $35. (310) 419-3100.