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Review: Smashing Pumpkins & Marilyn Manson at ACL Live

American-Statesman Staff

Who’d ever thought Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson would both hit the nostalgia tour circuit? Yet here we are.

It’ll happen to us all – 10-12 years from now, we’ll probably run a review of a Skrillex show catering to EDM kids in their 30s. Both the Pumpkins and Manson were two of the biggest names in 1990s alternative rock, and on paper, that seems more than enough to put them together for a tour. As the night bore out, the two are actually quite disparate for a tour package.

Marilyn Manson is the last true shock rocker we have, and 2015 doesn’t have any room for that sort of thing. His edginess was once natural, a magnet for evangelical protestors who thought they’d seen it all with Slayer. Manson hasn’t changed much, it’s just the music climate around him has changed – and a good portion of his fans are no longer in their 20s. Plenty of his stage banter felt forced, especially when he threatened to perform fellatio on bassist Twiggy Ramirez if bras didn’t get thrown on stage. Manson’s been in the business long enough to know that’s not a thing you need to request if your charisma is strong, which lent to desperation.

Playing the mock preacher/dictator combo, as he did for his rendition of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” doesn’t have quite the same effect it did in the 90s, either. “Jesus” also featured two girls in American flag bikinis making out, the sort of faux-lesbian fantasy for overly horny young boys … except his fans are older now. He used to elevate tackiness to challenge, now he’s struggling to escape it.

Manson’s still got some eye for flair in him – he’s abandoned his satanic glam-trash vogue of the past for an eccentric goth millionaire look, one of his few successful transitions into the modern age. He performed on stilts for his signature cover of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of These),” something you don’t see at your typical ACL show. When he wants to be Angry Rock Singer, “The Dope Show” and “Rock is Dead” haven’t lost their edge. And would you want a Manson who doesn’t sing from a microphone with a blade sticking out of it?

Smashing Pumpkins had nowhere near as elaborate of a stage, but based on crowd reaction alone, it’s clear why they headlined over Manson.

Original drummer Jimmy Chamberlain recently returned to the fold, and the crowd was ecstatic to hear him open the show with the snare roll from “Cherub Rock,” not a hired gun. “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” hasn’t lost any of its righteous 90s adolescent angst, and Billy Corgan still pulls off both honest-to-goodness guitar crunch and his whiney sneer with the same conviction he did 20 years ago. “Rock” and “Wings” were followed by “Tonight, Tonight” and “Ava Adore,” two more hits that built a lot of momentum early into the performance.

When the Pumpkins strayed from their 90s heyday, it got dicey. “Run2Me” is what happens when you mix adult contemporary with EDM, and it’s as terrible as that sounds. It was such a drag that it nearly killed the goodwill they accumulated early on. The Lollapalooza crowd might be getting up there in age, but was an acoustic cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” really necessary? Luckily, it was buffered by “Disarm” before and “1979” afterwards.

The night was a weird mix of Corgan being an effortless crowd pleaser and a out-of-touch indulgent rocker at the same time. Both sides, however, were unified in their effortlessness, something Manson didn’t have. If he put his desire to shock into a real energy to rock, like when the Pumpkins ripped through their encore of “Geek U.S.A.,” the tour would be more even-handed and complementary.