Looking around the audience filling the Manchester O2 Apollo you’re reminded that Marilyn Manson’s career has spanned over 24 years, as teenage goths bump elbows with casually dressed thirty somethings and rockers in their 40s.
This eclectic mix makes pleasing everyone hard, and therefore the choice of DJ Amazonica as the opening act is something of an odd one. The artist formerly known as Dirty Harry gamely mixes hip hop beats with classic rock and throws her hands in the air like she’s headlining an Ibiza club night but the audience are just not biting. There are cheers when she samples Smells Like Teen Spirit and Feel Good Hit Of The Summer but the feeling is like being at an underwhelming rock club night where you never get more than a minute of each song, and the applause after her thirty minute set is polite rather than enthusiastic.
An hour later the crowd is growing noticeably restless waiting for The Pale Emperor himself to appear, but when he finally does it’s explosive. The curtain falls and the band explode into Revelation #12 from new album Heaven Upside Down, before diving straight into the first real crowd pleaser of the night, The New Shit. Following his recent and well-publicised broken leg Manson himself opens the gig scooting and spinning around the stage in a throne-backed electric wheelchair before later theatrically limping to the front of the stage on a prosthetic leg where he spends most of the night. Never the most talkative or engaging frontman, Manson is at his darkly laconic best when playing his injury for laughs, the singer attended all night by a pair of faceless doctors in surgery scrubs who insist on dragging him back to his chair for “treatments” and costume changes between numbers. “These guys aren’t even real doctors. They only prescribe me legal drugs…” he complains sardonically from the darkness at one point to genuine laughter.
However, those moments of dark comedy aside, the truth is that there’s little challenging about this show. Newer material like KILL4ME is sprinkled in alongside hits like mOBSCENE, Disposable Teens and The Dope Show, with new single Say10 especially engaging the crowd and staking the strongest case to remain part of the set going forward. The band is very tight and professional, with new bassist Juan Alderete (of Racer X fame) an especially enjoyable on-stage presence. It’s still a powerful rock show, but for an artist who has built a career from controversy and creativity there’s little on show here. All the hits are played, the name of the city is shouted, the boxes are ticked.
There is some subtle creativity at work in the staging – the bleak and authoritarian set design and costumes slowly give way into seedy nightmares of hospitals and insanity, with well-designed lighting changes revealing the stage design by degrees as the night goes on. The imagery of a struggling Manson confined by his doctors to a dirty hospital bed for powerful renditions of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) and Tourniquet is strong. A blistering and crowd-pleasing version of the anthemic The Beautiful People closes out the 90-minute set, and you get the feeling that people are going home happy. Pleasing everyone may be hard, but Marilyn Manson still knows how to pull it off.