These days, if you want to see a big rock show in Charleston, you have to drive. The Coliseum doesn’t get rock acts, hasn’t had a rock show in a couple of years now — unless you count the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas show.
Nobody counts that.
Friday night, Big Sandy Superstore Arena, in Huntington, got a great big rock ‘n’ roll show, headlined by two over-the-top rock stars, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie.
People came out in force. We were an army of black T-shirts, boots and cargo shorts, with a few people still wearing what they had on when they got off work. A few people brought their kids — but not many.
About 15 minutes before the show was about to start, security was still trying to get lines of people into the arena. They opened additional doors and encouraged folks to step lively.
The night opened with Palaye Royale, an energetic Canadian rock band that reminded me a little of a cross pollination between My Chemical Romance and The Rolling Stones — upbeat, charismatic and built for arena rock.
Then came the Pale Emperor, Marilyn Manson.
Manson was everything a fan could hope he’d be. He was gorgeously grotesque, casually spitting toward the crowd when it suited him, blowing his nose into a T-shirt and then casting it out for some lucky concert-goer to take home and treasure with a kind word to go along with it.
Part of Manson’s charm is that he routinely both embraces and rejects rock star convention, distorting it and even mocking it while also gleefully celebrating the nonsense of hero worship.
The singer put on good show, breezing through a mix of songs from his 10 albums, while also slipping in and out of different costumes, using them as shorthand for different aspects or incarnations of his persona, not unlike David Bowie or Alice Cooper before him.
Props were exchanged. The set was moved around.
The theatrics were great for the spectacle of his set. Manson performed his breakthrough 1990s hit, “Sweet Dreams,” on a set of stilts, for example, but the stops and starts to reset became frustrating.
I’d have preferred another song or two to the pauses.
Manson was easygoing and gregarious. Early on he confessed that his mother was born in West Virginia, which he jokingly said might explain a lot.
Manson has said it before, and while it might not be enough of a connection to get a high school in the state named after him, maybe it would be enough for a nomination to the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame?
Rob Zombie followed.
Where Manson’s performance felt like separate pieces being assembled slowly, Zombie’s set was like an aerobic onslaught.
He danced, shook his shaggy head and ran around like he was trying squeeze a good workout into his hour of music — but it started slow, almost peaceful.
Zombie opened his part of the show by playing a recording of John Denver singing “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Nobody seemed to mind and all of us, black T-shirts and heavy metal haircuts or not, sang along.
Most of us know the words by now.
Then Zombie came on stage and launched into the his set with a kind of relentless gusto, focusing early on his better known songs like “Living Dead Girl,” “More Human than Human” and “Superbeast” before doing a lot from his latest record, the very fun “The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser.”
Where Manson had a lot of single-use props or set pieces, most of Zombie’s stage was digital. Video screens played scenes from old B-movies, images from Zombie’s films and music videos — and a video of graphically naked space aliens, which underscored a particular song whose title can’t be reprinted in most daily newspapers.
Also, costumed creatures wandered around on stage and giant beach ball balloons were cast out into the crowd for the audience to play with. Whenever one of the balls made it back to the stage, the singer kicked it back out.
Zombie sings songs about death, witchcraft and vampires, but he keeps his show almost carnival festive.
Rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t have to be serious, and Manson and Zombie delivered a full-on rock ‘n’ roll spectacle.
Big Sandy Superstore Arena got a good crowd for this one, but not a sell-out. There were some empty seats here and there, but far fewer than at the last country show I saw there.
There’s an appetite for rock ‘n’ roll in these parts, even “scary” rock ‘n’ roll that still makes a few people nervous when they have to ride in an elevator with someone wearing a T-shirt with a leering monster on it.
Here’s hoping a few rock shows one day find their way a little further east to Charleston.