Beginning with its name, the band Marilyn Manson is a study in contradictions. In an interview with MTV Europe, Marilyn Manson (ne Brian Warner) explained the concept. "The name really describes everything that I have to say. Male and female, beauty and ugliness, and it's very American. It's a statement on the power that we give to icons like Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson. It's about paradox--diametrically opposed archetypes."
With last year's release of the band's fourth album, Mechanical Animals, the contradictions only continue to intensify. To go with the new music's more accessible sound, the shock rocker has traded in his formerly ghoulish persona and ragged lingerie for a glam look, complete with bright red hair, iridescent eye makeup, and sequined costumes. Still, the current tour is filled with vivid images of both the old and new.
Starting with the very first song, stark, barely lit moments often instantaneously segue into blindingly bright bursts of color. Studded with silver sequins, an off-white kabuki curtain shields the stage from the audience's eyes, although some of the abundant fog pumping behind it does escape. As the house lights go out, a gigantic shadow takes shape on the curtain and is gradually recognizable as the singer's spooky silhouette.
"We backlight the drape with strobes chasing and some Mole lights bumping on and off at low levels, and backlight Manson with [Vari*Lite(R)] VL7s(TM)," explains LD Ethan Weber. "You see his huge, scary shadow and the kids go wild while we keep pumping the smoke. The drape has this great billowing effect when it drops, and then there he is."
Manson appears in the first of several outlandish costumes--this one is a teal number festooned with silver sequins. The look is new but the first song is not. "The show began with one of the old standards, 'Reflecting God,' which was a great one to start with from a lighting point of view," Weber says. "You always want to pace yourself and not give away your tricks too soon, but it's a pretty dark song, with some really dramatic choruses that lend themselves to some great strobe bumps. So we pretty much assault the kids right from the start."
Weber designed a multilayered lighting system that in its own way reflected the band's duality. "My original idea was to have a ceiling of stalactites, so that the lights themselves would serve as the main part of the set--at least for the first part of the show," Weber says. "With a black cyc, it would look like lights were coming out of nowhere, from different angles and heights. For the second part of the show, we could change to a white cyc or another backdrop, and all of a sudden the crowd would see all these T-bars hanging down. I knew that there were certain parts of the set that we would keep from the last tour--some soft goods that Manson's always liked and the podium for the fascist rally portion of the show. I had designed the lighting rig with those pieces in mind--but they all come in during the later part of the show."
Hanging from the grid, the black aluminum T pieces, which vary in length from 4' to 12' (1.2-3.6m), each have a VL6(TM) automated luminaire at the bottom and a Diversitronics 3k strobe above that. The rest of the lighting system includes: eight VL7 automated luminaires, eight Martin MAC 500s, nine Wybron 8-light Colorams, 22 Wybron PAR Colorams, 125 PAR-64s, 15 bars of PAR-64 ACLs, eleven 8-light Molefays, six ETC Source Fours, two 2k fresnels, and two single-circuit Lighting & Electronics MiniStrips.
Having stepped into the LD position for Marilyn Manson's 1996 AntiChrist Superstar tour, Weber had been in discussions with manager Tony Ciulla about this tour. While in Europe as LD Patrick Woodroffe's lighting director for the Rolling Stones' Bridges to Babylon tour, Weber submitted his design ideas to Ciulla in early September. Within two weeks of finishing up with the Stones, the LD left for production rehearsals last October 12.
Manson's only initial input for the show's lighting design was that it include moving lights. "He'd always been kind of opposed to them, because he didn't think they fit with his old image," Weber says. "But when he changed to the glam rock look, he wanted them. For the tour's first leg, the main idea was to play all theatre-type venues, and create a buzz for the arena tour that would be starting up in February.
"I was already committed to going back out with the Stones in January, so the plan was to come fairly close to the arena system and try to put it in theatres. My usual plan of attack is to go overboard during the bidding process. I ask for everything I want, then see how the prices come in. You can always cut later. We did go over by a few thousand dollars, but Tony was okay with that. It was more important to come up with a show that everybody would be happy with, which was nice."
Of course, budget considerations still played a large part in the tour's initial planning stage. "This was probably the most difficult set-up period that I've ever had on any tour," Weber says. "Management wanted to take bids from several different lighting companies, but in the end we went with loyalty. Upstaging handled the last tour really well, so there was no reason to take it away from them. Between John Huddleston, John Bahnick, Steve Wojda, and Ron Shilling, they did a great job. Wayne Boehning at VLPS did a great job on the Vari-Lite end. On the road, Steve is a valuable asset--he's Upstaging's crew chief, and he's also been with the tour longer than anybody."
When Manson requested moving lights, Weber decided on VL6 automated luminaires. "They're the only ones that would really work at the bottom of the Ts," Weber explains. "They aren't heavy, and physically they're probably the best-looking ones, as well as being great moving lights."
Weber also specified VL7 automated luminaires, even though he had not yet seen them. "That turned out to be the best choice we could have made," Weber says. "I chose them based on comments from Wayne and Patrick about their amazing zoom capabilities. I put them on the floor and they turned out to be the ideal light for that position. Because of the logistics of all the backdrops and other set pieces, we had to put them pretty tightly up against the back risers, but we were still able to get huge washes out of them and great rotating gobo effects. I don't think there's another light out there that could have done that."
Weber also specified Clay Paky HPE Golden Scans, but when Upstaging suggested using the Martin MAC 500s, which they had in stock, he agreed to try them instead. "We had an idea of opening the show up a little bit more during the third part," Weber explains. "I had never used them, but I was fairly impressed with them, too."
While the lighting system was coming together, Manson and Ciulla were discussing set design, but nothing had been settled. "Manson's always been very visually oriented, and he has a lot of ideas on how he wants to be presented," Weber explains. "So he was throwing a lot of ideas at Tony, and they were looking for a direction to go."
Only three weeks before the first show, Manson hired Mike Keeling of Project X, who was then working on White Zombie's set design. "By the time Mike got involved, it was too late to change the lighting system, but at least we had enough lights to do justice to the pieces that he brought in," Weber said. "I was more than willing to move my equipment around in rehearsals to accommodate pieces of the set. Still, they were designed independently, which definitely isn't the best way to go about it. But it ended up working out really well."
Keeling and Manson came up with a 2001: A Space Odyssey theme. "He wanted a retro kind of vibe and a T. Rex/Bowie-esque feel for the show," Keeling says. "We had to do everything in express mode, because they were already in rehearsals. All Access did the staging for me and the work on the set. They did a fantastic job of getting it all together."
Considering the time crunch, the number of new set elements introduced were wildly ambitious. Keeling's designs included circular band risers, three gold Mylar rolldrop panels from Rosco for the glam section, an Omega head sign (copied from the album's cover art), video monitors emitting different types and colors of white noise, confetti cannons, and, the undeniable showstopper, a huge sign spelling out DRUGS in marquee lights. He found the opening reveal curtain at Grosh Scenic Rentals. "It's a vintage sparkle silver curtain made from chiffon with all these little glitter appliques on it," Keeling says. "Thirty years ago, someone actually put them all on with a glue gun."
While Keeling was sorting out the set pieces, Weber was setting up the lighting system. "We were supposed to have a rehearsal studio in LA for nine days, but that was knocked down to four days, so the good people at Vari-Lite were kind enough to let us work in their warehouse for a few days. Then we moved the system to another building in LA, and I did the usual four nights in a row programming all night long. So rehearsals were a bit rough. Not only because of time constraints, but since we'd gotten going so late on the set, there were new pieces coming in every day."
Budget restrictions also prompted Weber to program the entire show himself. "For the theatre leg, Tony was initially worried about having moving lights because of the cost of adding another board operator to the tour. So I took it upon myself to run everything from the Avolites Diamond III. I had used it on the Stones and really liked how easy it was both to program and operate. It gives you a lot of flexibility when you're running the show. While I like having control of everything, the programming process does take longer. That limits your creative time because instead of just thinking about what you want to do next, you also have to think about how to program it."
With 20 songs to design, the LD started off by programming the basic looks he wanted for each one. Before the tour started, Manson had dictated a three-part structure for the show. "He wanted the first part to be surreal, dark, and moody with a few more of the older songs. The second bit was the glam section and the third section was back to some of the older hits with AntiChrist Superstar, like 'Hate Anthem' and 'The Beautiful People.' The first part of the show we tried to keep more monochromatic with a lot of blues and off-whites and some greens. For the second part of the show, I went with some bright Day-Glo-type colors: pinks and ambers and reds."
Manson changes costumes several times during the show, and Weber didn't see any of them until the first night. "The costumes fit in with the color vibe--we got lucky with that. For the first part of the show, he's in a kind of understated blue-green jumpsuit. Then he comes out on the stilts, and then in the black trenchcoat for 'Speed of Pain.' For the second part of the show he's in a red G-string with a boa and red sequined top. For the end, he's in the suit, which he later rips off."
Because of his new look, Manson asked to have more light on his face than he has in the past. "He's always been lit from the front truss and from floor lights on the downstage edge," Weber says. "Tony and I opted not to use followspots until the tour goes into arenas, so I had to follow him with specials on the downstage truss instead. That was a little difficult sometimes because I didn't have a third hand to use as a spot operator."
The band came in for the last two days of rehearsal. "The first day I just gave them some ambient light and watched them, because it was the first time I'd seen them play everything live," Weber says. "The second day when they came in, I ran it the first time and Manson said that it didn't feel right to him. A lot of that was because of the moving lights--he's used to PAR can systems where you really feel the heat onstage."
Manson came out front to get a new perspective. "He gave me some notes, but he liked the direction it was headed," Weber says. "He's so visual that he notices everything. So once the show is actually set, he knows the cues and notices if they're not there. When he's onstage, as he puts it, 'He's the demon,' whether it's rehearsals, sound check, or the show. When he's offstage, he's actually soft spoken, very intelligent and approachable. After the second run-through, he asked me to make a few minor changes. I explained that he's got to get used to the moving lights, and it's going to take me a little while to program them because the four days we'd had just weren't enough--I was going to need to flesh things out over the course of the next week or two. He realized that. Whether he realizes when he's onstage when everything else is going on is another story. But he accepted the fact that he was going to need to have a little bit of patience."
For the first few shows the band was most comfortable during the songs that had featured more PAR can looks. "I've always really liked the beam quality of a PAR can and I don't think there's a moving light out there that can totally replace that," Weber explains. "I've always felt it was important to have a good variety of light sources. There are a few fresnels and Source Fours for frontlight, and we have 24 Diversitronics 3k strobes, which are just amazing lights. You can run them for hours without having them go thermal. It's the first tour where I've ever been able to go strobe-heavy and have it fit the music and not get old. We try not to overuse them, but they do get used a fair amount. They're not hot, but you can definitely feel them, so we put some right in his face, which he just loves."
Manson's most cherished inanimate object rises up from the floor for "I Don't Like the Drugs, But the Drugs Like Me." It's the 40'-wide (12m), 5'-high (1.5m) sign with DRUGS spelled out across it. "Each letter has 150 clear 75W bulbs in it," Keeling explains. "The idea was to do this over-the-top sign, a la KISS, with a very camp feel. The vision of the sign rising up and the tempo of the song is really powerful."
Another powerful moment, and Manson must-have effect, is the snow. "Last tour it was detergent-based snow, but this tour, Mike Keeling found some confetti-type snow machines that we use for 'Speed of Pain,' " Weber says. "I did some research and found that TubeWorks has a new product called ConfettiStorm(TM) that literally puts out 200 miles per hour of air velocity out of a 3" nozzle," Keeling says. "We were able to create a real blizzard effect, and he just loves it." Ciulla runs the snow cue from the lighting board. "Since my hands are full of faders and Tony's always out there anyway, he started doing the snow cue and he took it upon himself to do the smoke cues too," Weber says. "It's the first tour I've ever done where the artist keeps asking for more smoke. The stage is barely visible sometimes."
Throughout the show, the band keeps to a pretty tight structure. "He'll drop songs from night to night depending on the venue or his mood, and there were a few songs that got shifted around," Weber says. " 'Sweet Dreams' was a big MAC 500 song and it was towards the end, but now it's near the beginning. It's one of the more popular songs that really gets the crowd going. It's not the only tour where you see the kids in their Halloween outfits every night, but they're pretty fervent. When he gets into some of the older songs, like 'AntiChrist Superstar,' where he's up on the pulpit, these kids are all fist-thumping and jumping up and down. It's also interesting that now that he has made a move to become more commercially acceptable, the crowd has definitely changed. You see a few more older people and glam individuals among the spooky kids."
Because Weber knew he would be out with the Stones' No Security tour early in the year, he suggested that Ciulla call LD Roy Bennett to take over Manson's arena leg. "Roy already knew the band because it had been the opening act for Nine Inch Nails on past tours. So, he came out to a few of the shows and offered a few bits of constructive criticism, which I really appreciated, and they added a lot to the show," Weber says. "When you're running it, it's difficult to get the perspective that you need to change certain areas. Plus, I've always felt it's important to be a working member of the crew. If you're the one who is responsible for the lights, especially when you're going into different types of buildings, you should be responsible for making any major decisions about altering the lighting system."
As many difficulties as the tour posed, Weber still enjoyed the experience. "It was a pretty satisfying show to run, especially since I've designed mostly crossfading-type shows. I haven't done too many shows where the aim is to assault the audience and the stage, so that was fun. As much as you go heavy on the strobes and flashing in one song, for a song like 'Speed of Pain' we just set a scene and then gradually bring in a few more faders and leave it alone. So the show is very dynamic and well laid out, and pretty entertaining. Whether you like him or not, Manson is a great performer and he's pretty captivating to watch."
For the tour's European tour last December, Vari*Lite technician Alex Skowron operated the board and crew chief Wojda ran all the specials from a separate 12-channel board. At presstime, Bennett was planning to add to the existing lighting and to the set, as Manson's tour is moving to arenas for a 10-week co-headlining tour with Hole, which was scheduled to begin February 28.
Band manager/snow and smoke effects Tony Ciulla
Tour manager Mike Amato
Production manager Arthur Kemish
Lighting designer Ethan Weber
FOH sound engineer Brad Madix
Monitor engineer Maxie Williams
Lighting director/Vari*Lite technician Alex Skowron
Lighting crew chief/Sixth Manson Steve Wojda
VLPS Europe Barry Branford
Head carpenter Sam Raphael
Carpenter/lighting technician Ron Shilling
Sound technician Brad Judd
Wardrobe Zepp Savini
Main lighting contractor Upstaging John Bahnick
Additional automated lighting Vari-Lite/VLPS Wayne Boehning
Set designer Mike Keeling
Set construction All Access
Lighting equipment (1) Avolites Diamond III console (25) Vari*Lite VL6s (8) Vari*Lite VL7s (8) Martin MAC 500s (9) Wybron 8-light Colorams (22) Wybron PAR Colorams (24) Diversitronics 3k strobes (125) black PAR-64s (15) bars of black PAR-64 ACLs (11) 8-light Molefays (6) ETC Source Fours (2) 2k fresnels (2) Lighting & Electronics MiniStrips (2) Reel EFX smoke machines (2) High End Systems F100 performance fog machines (15) 8' sections of black pre-rigged truss (2) black corner blocks (4) 10' sections 12"x18" black mini-beam truss (8) 10' sections 12"x12" black mini-beam truss (32) black aluminum T pieces, varying lengths (2) Split-pull traveller tracks (2) 40' electronic kabukis (10) Columbus McKinnon 1-ton chain motors (3) Columbus McKinnon 1/2-ton chain motors