Just because he rips up Bibles, throws the pages at the audience, and then invites them to spit on him, some people in this country have gotten the impression that shock-rocker Marilyn Manson isn't a very nice guy. Clearly every move Manson makes is calculated to provoke a reaction, and this attention to detail extends to all aspects of his live shows. Manson's AntiChrist Superstar tour began playing theatres and clubs last fall, and by April the band had moved into arenas, bringing with them a full set including a church facade with steps and an assortment of weird little gadgets they had picked up in pet stores and army surplus shops. At about that same time, LD Lawrence Upton left to join the Thrill Kill Kult's tour, and LD Ethan Weber took over the show's design.
"Manson is very intelligent, and it was great to work with him because he's very aware of the lighting," Weber says. "He has a real sense of what it looks like out in the house and he will move to accommodate specific cues. It's probably the hardest show I've ever run because he knows exactly what he wants and where he wants certain cues to happen, so I have to hit all that. It's also the first show I've ever done where the artist has asked me to use more smoke. Much of the show is fairly dark by rock show standards, but it has its share of bump-and-flash moments and lots of strobe effects."
While much of the show remained the same, Weber was given the freedom to make changes to the lighting system. "I added an upstage truss and reconfigured a lot of lighting except for some of the floor lights," Weber says. "I also added some Molefays and four Omni photographic floodlights. They really added a different quality of light to the show, and I needed some small lamps to use as key lights. I almost used them as a special effect from where they were mounted on the staircase so they were kind of unobtrusive. Also, it's physically a nice looking light, and I love the quality of the output."
The tour's lighting equipment was provided by Upstaging. For the tour's first leg, Upstaging's crew included Sean McGrann, Steve Wojda, and Ron Shilling. In Europe, CPL supplied the lighting and Simon Chandler-Honner was the lighting technician. On the recent Canadian leg, Wojda and Shilling returned, and now that Weber has left the tour to become lighting director for the Rolling Stones' Bridges to Babylon tour, Wojda is running the show. "The Upstaging guys were all really great out there, and the account rep, John Bahnick, was a big help," Weber says. "To have to change your system around in a day and be able to pull it off is a great achievement."
The set was fabricated by Tom McPhillips of Atomic Design and Tait Towers. "Manson also has this great 2 1/2'-tall lightbox--he's been using some version of it for a few years now," Weber says. "It's basically like a gobo--the sides are all solid but the top has a lot of holes drilled into it, and there is a Mole light underneath. He jumps up on it and it creates a great effect with him standing there in his lingerie and shafts of light coming up around him [left]. He has very definite ideas about how he wants to present himself."
One of the most striking visual presentations occurs during "Apple of Sodom" and involves the show's eight snow machines. "Some of the lyrics are pretty vivid images," Weber says. "In that one he sings: 'I cut the cord to stunt my growth,' and we turn on the snow machines so that by the time he says, 'Cover me with snow,' two lines later, he is covered in snow. 'Man That You Fear' is the name of his last song, and the lyrics are along the lines of 'the child that you loved is now the man that you fear.' He comes out covered in blood, just barely lit, with snow falling.
"There are great moments where I could take it down to almost nothing, and leave just a little bit of white on their faces, so the stage is in total darkness," Weber continues. "Then when the music explodes, we hit the strobes and all the big washes."
While controversy has dogged this tour throughout the US and Canada, it's done little to stop Manson's progress. "It's been kind of funny to hear all the rumors circulating about the show when it's probably pretty tame compared to a lot of others," Weber says. "Probably the worst thing he does is rip up a Bible, throw it into the audience, and let people spit on him. I wouldn't say it's been done before, but with all the heavy-metal and panic-rock bands around, I think we've all probably seen a lot worse. In the end I don't think the kids really listen to the words anyway. They just like the music and it's a good excuse to dress up. It's Halloween every night out there."