CEDAR RAPIDS — Shock rock isn’t so shocking anymore, at least, from the people-watching point of view.
Candy-colored hair is now mainstream, mohawks have returned in a milder form, and torn clothing is in everyday attire. The hard-rock concert crowd has morphed into a jeans-and-T-shirt, middle-aged fan base.
The onstage antics have evolved into highly theatrical, performance-art kind of events, too — even from no-longer-so-shocking Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie, whose “Hell Never Dies” tour thrashed through about 5,000 fans rocking the U.S. Cellular Center on Saturday night.
The energy still is electric and thumping bass still throbs through the crowd. But with just one small pocket of moshing in the pit midway through Zombie’s set, I never did see cops haul anyone away, like in the ’80s and ’90s heavy metal heyday.
The fans have grown up and started bringing their kids to the shows, so the atmosphere no longer is one of dread, even with the self-proclaimed Twins of Evil headlining a four-hour triple bill.
The biggest challenge remains discerning the lyrics from the wall of sound crashing all around.
I never did understand a thing uttered by opening act Palaye Royale. Kropp brothers Remington Leith, Sebastian Danzig and Emerson Barrett formed Kropp Circle in their teens in 2008. The Toronto natives changed their band name in 2011, adapting an homage the Toronto dance club Palais Royale, where their grandparents met.
Using their first and middle names professionally, they also have lived in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, rolling their Canadian heritage and American observations into an art form they call “fashion-rock.” Their skintight suits and punked-out look pull heavily from British influences, and guitarist Sebastian Danzig moves like Jagger and Chuck Berry.
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Despite all the flash and dash of the sophisticated sound and light show, I still have no idea what lead singer Remington Leith said or screamed.
Next up was Manson. This is the third time I’ve seen him in action, and this time definitely was the charm.
In 1994, I minced no words in describing the vile nature of his antics opening for Nine Inch Nails at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City. Five years later, he abruptly ended his much better outing at the then-Five Seasons Center in Cedar Rapids. He just walked off the stage with no explanation.
Saturday night, he was in full “Antichrist Superstar” mode, strutting across the stage in ever-changing costumes, jumping down several times to feed off fans pressed against the audience barricade in the standing-room-only floor configuration.
This was shock rock in full operatic mode, beginning with a glorious recording of the angelic “Flower Duet” from the 1883 opera “Lakme.” That gently flowing mood shattered when Manson descended the center-stage stairs clad in a long black trench coat, the vision of which still haunts 20 years after the Columbine massacre.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that it took several songs before I understood a thing he sang, other than a profanity that rang through loud and clear. I’m pretty sure he sang “Rock is Dead,” and know he sang “The Nobodies,” a song full of angst which reportedly references the Columbine killers.
He also ripped through “The Dope Show,” which incited the crowd to light up cigarettes and pot; “If I was your Vampire/Say10,” which ended with the crowd shouting “Say10” (Satan); his eerie cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” where the only light came from audience cellphones; and “Antichrist Superstar,” one of his biggest hits and alter egos.
He ended with “The Beautiful People,” from 1996, an early hit that remains one of his most satisfying concert spectacles.
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The spectacle continued with Zombie and bandmates Piggy D thumping on bass, John 5 thrashing on guitar and Ginger Fish shredding on drums. Trivia note: John 5 and Fish were previously part of Manson’s band.
Ever the showman, Zombie opened tongue-in-cheekiness with a video of “Iowa Stubborn” from the movie version of “The Music Man.” That bled into a Zombie video, before this music man from another realm bounded onstage, fringe flying from his hippie coat and bell bottoms. He stomped and kicked his way across the front platforms, while video screens embedded in every horizontal surface from stage floor to light grid pounded the audience with visual sensations. Later, he jumped down to walk among his fans.
Some of his song titles can’t be printed, but among the highlights were a cover of White Zombie’s “More Human Than Human,” “Living Dead Girl” and a cover of the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter.” In addition to all of the video visuals and masks sported by Zombie’s team, giant puppets strolled across the stage on many of the songs, ranging from aliens and robots to a nightmare-inducing devil.
The evening’s capstone, “Dragula,” erased the creepy factor, with hilarious video clips from the song’s influencer: television’s Herman Munster driving Grandpa Munster’s souped-up coffin dragster, DRAG-U-LA.
Nothing about this concert extravaganza was a drag.
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