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Seeing Marilyn Manson in a Small Club

Filed under : General Stories

Written on April 19, 2015

In late 1994, Nine Inch Nails rolled through Phoenix  and I was ecstatic to get a chance to see them. I remember a kid in one of my classes telling me about various NIN shows that he’d caught, and it seemed like1 NIN was rolling through Phoenix every few weeks around the time of The Downward Spiral. Though I knew of them from the Pretty Hate Machine and Broken days, they were still relatively unknown. This skater kid, however, seemed to have some kind of inside knowledge of their shows. I missed all of them cause that kid never gave me a heads-up2.

As with the Nirvana story, NIN played our State Fair that year. Opening for them was the Jim Rose Circus, and Marilyn Manson. At the time, I was still trying to figure out my religious affiliation and/or looking for acceptance through groups (which, at that age, were always religious). Marilyn Manson intrigued me musically, but scared me religiously. My friend Dave (whom I went with to the aforementioned Nirvana concert) also went with me to this NIN/Manson concert, but he brought along his girlfriend and chose to sit in the stands with her instead of getting down in “the pit” with me. Prior to Manson taking the stage, they had a “hype man” that would make some kind of location-or-time-based jokes3 about Marilyn Manson being from hell. I think his joke at the time was “it sure is HOT here in Phoenix, it almost feels like hell. We’re happy to feel at home in hell…”. As a budding Christian at the time, I’m embarrassed to admit that I felt a twinge of guilt about being a part of this whole thing, and thinking “hell is no joke!”.

Manson, at the time, opened with the Willy Wonka boat ride theme they covered on Portrait of an American Family4, and that was pretty awesome to me, despite my objections to their intro. The show itself was really good, and Manson himself walked out into the crowd to sign autographs before NIN took the stage. Dave asked me to get his ticket signed, and I figured I should get one for myself while I was there. I handed him Dave’s ticket and he wrote “Kill God” on it. I said “oh, sorry, could you sign mine as well?” and he looked up and saw that I was wearing a cross, pointed at it, and said “that shit doesn’t belong here”. He signed my ticket with “Kill Yourself”, handed me the tickets, and made a point to shove-punch me in the chest (where my cross was hanging). I gave Dave both autographed tickets, but I ended up “killing god” a few months later and Dave ended up killing himself a decade later5.

Almost a year later6, Marilyn Manson played Club Rio. That venue held a lot of memories for me over the years. I saw Social Distortion, Faith No More, Gwar, Babes in Toyland, L7, and a few others in that venue. I could give you an idea of the size, but I don’t know popular clubs in your area. Let’s say it was large for a bar, but relatively small for a music venue. If you’ve ever been to a House of Blues, imagine the main floor area being the size of the entire bar. That said – it was a great venue for live acts.

By the time that year between my first and second Manson shows had passed, I’d changed quite a bit. As mentioned above, I ditched all religious affiliation. In addition : I started getting back into darker music, I switched high schools, I’d actually done sexual things with women, and I was even thinking about starting my own band. Maybe more importantly, I bought Portrait of an American Family and some friends of mine even had their singles which – like NIN singles of the time – features really strange remixes and reworkings of their songs, in addition to experimental B-Sides.

When the band came out to take the stage, I was near the rear bar, which was close to the backstage area (as I’d known from all the other bands I saw there). Seeing Manson himself come out and duck under the bar was a scary sight. He was in foot-tall platform boots, so thin he was almost entirely bones, and he feigned a facial expression of both extreme fright towards others and simultaneously an expression that felt like he wasn’t even human – he just ignored everything around him. It was like seeing a horror movie, up-close, in realtime. I’ll admit it – he was genuinely scary, even just walking past me.

The show itself was electric. The whole band was on-point, which was necessary because early MM tracks had a lot of full-band hits. I don’t know the technical term, but listen to a song like Dogma and you’ll hear the whole band hit their instruments at critical points. Manson, himself, would smack the mic stand against his chest on those points, accentuating them. It was absolutely amazing.

At the end of the set, they played Sweet Dreams (are made of this) and I almost lost my shit. This was prior to the release of Smells Like Children, so I had no idea this was even in their repertoire (and is, in fact, why I hate it when bands announce their covers ahead of time – I love the surprise). It was absolutely mind-blowing, and though I’ve downloaded many versions of them doing it live in the early days (which are still better than current live versions and the album version), I’ve never heard it better than I heard it that night.

A month after that show, Smells Like Children was released. There was a record store up the road from my house called CDGBs, and they let me and some friends in at exactly 12:01am to buy the album 1 minute into release day. I put it on the CD player in my car (a 1974 VW Bus), and we danced around in the parking lot and on the roof of the Bus, listening to Sweet Dreams on a constant loop until the cops showed up an hour later.

I haven’t been to a Marilyn Manson concert since then, because I know it’ll never compare and I don’t want to ruin these wonderful memories.

  1. though I don’t care enough to check all the archives 

  2. and/or I wasn’t cool enough to know about them, as I surmised at the time 

  3. I know this because I heard another recording, years later, where their “hype man” did an intro in Colorado that started with “it’s a lot colder here than it is in hell, but scream real loud like you know it real well” 

  4. Marilyn Manson’s debut album 

  5. I’m not meaning  to make light of suicide, but Dave did actually kill himself a little over a decade later. I’m not at all suggesting it was related – in fact it was 100% not related – I just felt it was worth mentioning out of dramatic irony 

  6. the Manson Wiki places it at September 25, 1995