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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Live: Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson shake down 1999

Posted by on Tue, Jul 28, 2015 at 1:57 PM

  • Illustration by Christopher Williams
Smashing Pumpkins, Marilyn Manson
Red Hat Amphitheater, Raleigh
Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday night at Raleigh’s Red Hat Amphitheater, Billy Corgan seemed at peace. Out on a run of summer dates with former rival Marilyn Manson, the notoriously cranky Smashing Pumpkins frontman gazed thoughtfully between songs at the sizable crowd, even though he offered few words besides thank-you’s. Still, he delivered a hit-heavy set on the '90s-nostalgia seasonal circuit, and seemed content to do just that. Is Billy finally mellowing out, I wondered?

In recent years, Corgan’s output as the sole constant Pumpkin has been uneven. Corgan has used The Smashing Pumpkins name as a vehicle for a series of ambitious, often puzzling releases, sometimes coming across as an unkind parody of his '90s persona. Last year's Monuments To An Elegy¸ one of the better Pumpkins releases of the last decade, serves as a high point in the band’s current spotty multi-album cycle, dubbed "Teargarden by Kaleidyscope." But then there are Billy’s recent media stunts or snafus: He threatened to piss on Radiohead. He performed an eight-hour ambient set inspired by Siddhartha. He launched a wrestling company. He appeared with Siamese cats on the cover of PAWS Chicago.

All those factors made it even more surprising that his set Sunday hinged on perhaps the most fan-friendly and concise setlist you might have imagined. Perennial radio hits like “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” and “1979” made appearances, as did the raspy cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” and several late-period tunes. The crowd bobbed along dutifully. Aided by the forceful rhythm section of original drummer Jimmy Chamberlain and bassist Jack Bates, son of post-punk iconoclast Peter Hook, the band felt seasoned and capable, if not particularly distinctive. One wonders if Billy is starting to accept the inevitable march of time and finally just give the fans what they want. Or maybe he's just doubling down for the cash-in of a summer on the road. 

Brian Warner, better known as shock rocker Marilyn Manson, co-headlined. At a time when the Internet gives teenagers access to any number of horrific things, Manson’s array of spooky tactics seems even campier then in the bygone Napster days. Still, a quarter-century into his career, his pomp remains impressive. Announced by deafening church bells as he and his band members filed on stage, the 65-minute set was a well-rehearsed piece of theater. There were costume changes. There was a Bible that spouted flames as Manson read from it. There were skyward admissions of drug use. For his cover of the Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” he strapped on 10-foot stilts and lumbered around the stage.

Outside, before the concert began, protesters walked the line, berating attendees and handing out tracts telling them to repent. After watching Manson's elaborate set, though, I wondered if he'd simply hired the protestors himself. Manson loves keeping up appearances. 

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