Marilyn Manson Shocks by Not Shocking, Just Giving a Damn Good Show

A review of Friday's Philadelphia show at the Electric Factory, with opener Unlocking the Truth.


All photos courtesy of “Dark Chrystal.” Purchase prints here.

I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be going to the Marilyn Manson show at the Electric Factory on Friday night, the second stop on his Hell Not Hallelujah Tour, which opened on Thursday in, of all places, Silver Spring, Maryland.

I’ve never owned a Manson album, never downloaded a tune, never seen him live, so I guess you could say I’m not exactly a fan. Plus, Philadelphia’s forecast called for a wintry mess, and my couch and Black Mirror on Netflix sounded like a much better Friday.

But then I found out that the opener was Unlocking the Truth, that trio of heavy-metal-playing African-American kids from Brooklyn that you’ve probably heard about, since there aren’t exactly a lot of heavy-metal-playing African-American kids who get seven-figure record deals with Sony. While Manson, now on the wrong end of his 40s, hasn’t had a hit since 1999 — the year that he and his music were blamed for the Columbine massacre — surely these three thrashers would scratch my heavy metal itch. So, off I went.

As it turns out, though, Manson is no joke.

He and his band — tighter than the corset on the pink-haired Manson-tattooed groupie I met — burned through a 16-song set that ranged from blisteringly fast and frenetic to slow, dirty and grinding.

The seemingly sold-out crowd, which included lots of balding Gen-Xers but also a decent dose of new, young fans, was treated to some of his biggest hits from “back in the day,” including “The Beautiful People” and his cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” — a great example of how to properly cover someone else’s song, unlike that “Crazy Train” trash by Tom Morello and Serj Tankian that popped up on the Internet last week.

The black-leather-clad guy formerly known as Brian also included several tunes from his ninth studio album, The Pale Emperor, released less than a week before the performance.

Known at least in the mainstream media as a shocker and a spectacle, Manson didn’t do anything very shocking in Philadelphia. And there wasn’t much spectacle to the show — minimal video, no crazy lighting or effects or props (though, speaking of props, it should be said Manson’s microphone — with an attached light that allows him to give his face a haunting glow, à la that iconic visual from The Blair Witch Project, and then turn it on the crowd to cue the screams and devil-sign flashing — is a good example of a simple idea used for maximum efficacy).

It was just finely tuned heavy metal, performed by a man who has maintained a mysterious persona longer than most could, which was plenty for an enthusiastic and appreciative crowd that moshed like it was 1999. OK, well, maybe 3 percent of them were moshing like it was 1999; the rest had their iPhone 6’s out to capture the show. (Manson plays the Sands in Bethlehem on January 31st.)

As for the opener I was so excited to see, Unlocking the Truth, well, it’s a little hard to be critical of kids who haven’t even escaped middle school yet, but critical I must be.

The trio had a chance to bring it for a couple of thousand potential new fans, but they didn’t. One thing a heavy metal trio cannot be is sloppy and out of time, a problem that plagued them throughout their set. And the guitarist, who is very good at that job, needs to not sing. If the band is going to go anywhere, they need to hire a real heavy metal vocalist with range and charisma, though finding that in the tween set is obviously a tall order.

“Are you people too old to know what a circle pit is?” said the frontman to the crowd, after repeatedly calling for one but never actually convincing anyone to do it. No, they weren’t too old, dude. They just know that anybody who has to tell people to mosh isn’t worth the energy.