"not enough middle fingers..."
Bad Adventures chapter eleven - Richmond Coliseum, Richmond, VA, 5/11/97.

Welcome to the show we almost lost. Richmond's gig was actually cancelled by a paranoid City Manager named (I swear) Bob C. Bobb, and then saved by the combined force of (a) tons of angry fanmail, (b) a threatened ACLU lawsuit, and (c) city officials watching a videotape of a previous show and grudgingly admitting that while they found it repellent they could see nothing illegal going on. [Eat that, fuckers.]

So they had to let us in but they still hate us, and driving in you could already feel the vibe. Jesus stickers on too many cars for comfort. The Coliseum's in a creepy, fall-apart part of town, ringed by Holiness-type storefront churches. (I'm reminded of the venue in Pittsburgh which was right by the Church and Hospital of St. Francis - a huge statue of the good Saint towering from the peak of the church and actually shadowing the arena as if keeping an eye on us. Do they keep putting us in these places for a reason?...)

We walk up and meet the first ten or so kids, some already known to us. Also meet the day's entertainment! The all-singing all-dancing gospel revue, consisting of a lady in a white robe and spectacular yard-long beaded dreads singing hymns (lovely voice) and doing what sounded like African exorcism chants; several little kids in ill-attached heart costumes; and, for no reason anyone can guess, the headmask and costume of a big black mouse/rat in a red ringmaster's outfit. Um, sure, that would convert me to Christianity, all right...

ANYway, Ma'mselle Dreadlock and the Valentine Moppets prance around singing about Jesus while the Spooks unconcernedly chat. A tall Goth kid (who has a nice painting of the ACS cover to give Manson) delightedly announces that a Christian Broadcasting Network van has arrived! Regina and I set off to find them but they've been and gone. Drats. That would have been serious fun.

The line grows. Fairchilde arrives (with a Maxx toy for EVB!) and we discuss printing plans for DM&G #3.
The Slice Girls appear, tumBLEweED and SHARPTOOTH show up with a sack of burgers, two local rock stations park their mobile units on the premises and crack the volume to 11. Hand out some flyers and do another local TV interview (there's gotta be so much stuff in my FBI file by now...=) By now kids - every kind from t-shirt-and-jeans plain to full face paint and costumes - are joining the crowd in droves. The Christian Bikers Association arrives to begin passing out entertaining flyers and yet more Xtians set up a bin of ice with a sign: "FREE DRINKS - We Want To Show You God's Love In A Practical Way." (Gee, cans of nice cold Surge from Jesus. At least he's got good taste..)--Seeing the TV stations are here (at least three of 'em), Ma'mselle Dreadlock and Company get someone into the rat suit and parade around the venue, banging tambourines and singing. To top it off a set of picketers march through the (by now pretty dense) throng with the most garish two-sided hellfire-and-brimstone signs - "God Loves You"/"God Hates Sin", "Hell Is Real/God Is Real" and, so help me Isis, "Repent or Perish"! (I'm surprised they missed "God Hates Fags"...) ---Man, I hope someone with the Manson crew had a video camera out there - it was just goddamned amazing! What a fuckin' circus!!

I was having a terrific time, let me tell you, and probably would have gone on that way except for this: I felt someone shove into the line right behind me and turned around. The someone was a stocky mid-fortyish lady with brown hair and a gold cross, pushing her way toward the door. She reached a tall kid I hadn't really noticed - one of the non-showoffs, MM shirt and black jeans, in a cluster of three friends - and to my shock grabbed his wrist and snapped a handcuff onto him. There was an instant chorus of shouts and curses from the Spooks. Astonished and furious I yelled something like "Who do you think you are?" She just looked at me calmly and said "I'm his mother. He's 16, he's underage." Her son said nothing and put up no fight - his face was sad and resigned, as if he hadn't really expected to get away with it. His friends were grabbing at his hands as she started to pull him away. I was still screaming at this woman (I have never been so angry in my life!) --"You mean he has no civil rights? No First Amendment rights?" and she just said, still very levelly, "No he hasn't. He's a minor." [Is that true?] His friends pressed a chain or some piece of jewelry into his hands just before he got out of their reach. Spooks were still yelling every sort of abuse at Mom as they worked their way out of the crowd and left the scene. I do believe I went on screaming for awhile myself.

(Okay, I admit it: we behaved badly - feel free to chew me out for being an idiot - and we probably confirmed all her worst ideas about us. In retrospect I wish I had kept my head and tried to reason with her, find out why she was so adamant that her son not see the show. But damn, when you're seeing one of your fellow spooks dragged away like a criminal in cuffs by his own mom, diplomacy is just not the uppermost thing on your mind.)

Well, that puts a damper on the carnival spirit of the day. Fortunate it's near to doortime.
Get inside - I'm not doing barricade tonight (got kicked too hard too many times in DC), so get a new perspective on the stage from back by the soundboard. Man, that lighting rig is impressive. (The Upstaging crew are steady but there's still something shell-shocked about them, controlled and too quiet. Poor guys. I can't even guess how Sean McGrann's death must have hit them.)

Hang on the rails around the soundboard and chat with Amy (tumBLEweED). Amy makes an astute observation: from back here it's clearly seen that the seats are a sea of blue denim - jeans, shirts, jackets - and of bright colors, but here on the floor it's black, black, black. Some blue jeans but they're vastly outnumbered by black jeans and black shirts and black/white faces. A vivid diagram of the split between the freaks and the nonfreaks and their perception of what makes a concert. (Or as Amy put it, "Up there, blue jeans; down here, blue hair.")

Again no Helmet - we hear that with Page's continued illness and the few dates left to go, they've just packed up and left the tour. This means Rasputina's set is expanded from the previous six songs to ten, a welcome happening. They still look pained and deadly serious but I hope they're enjoying the chance to stretch out. The crowd's polite, even enthusiastic. Nice. I swear that's "Onward Christian Soldiers" they're playing --tho EVB thinks it's an old English hymn --while Melora recites "The medieval exorcists used a ten-gallon brass syringe...filled with holy water...inserted into the anus of the possessed." Best Melora line of the night (approximately): "if you came here to see baby cats bludgeoned with the corpses of PETA members, you will not be seeing that, though I wish you would." -- After their set there's an ABC-TV crew roaming the floor, looking around for stuff to shoot. I tug the microphone guy's sleeve and say "don't leave till you see him do a song on stilts." I hope they paid attention.

>>>wait wait wait<<<
..and a white strobe light hits the creature at the top of the stairs. His first pose has changed subtly in the past month and now has an echo of the old scarecrow Manson in it, the arms not raised but hung from the elbow at an awkward puppet angle. Bringing the control symbolism that drives ACS in even earlier... but he thrusts both fists straight up, then strikes the proud attitude as he walks down the stairs, and for the first time I can look at them all at once.
The full panorama of the stage hits me - it is the "Blade Runner church" Manson said he wanted. The stone of the stairs is cracked and rags of fabric hang from the landing; there's a broken Gothic arch behind Ginger's drum platform and industrial debris everywhere. Figures - damned souls? - clustered around the stained-glass Christ's feet, reach up in pleading gestures and are stonily ignored. The band looks stunning, completely offplanet. Twig's makeup and shaved-back hair have gotten so stylized he looks like a Pacific Island icon; Zim with his sleek hair, stark eye makeup and hot pants is a bizarre style clash, a streetwalking Egyptian princess; Pogo in his short sleeves with wild frizz of hair and intent face hunches over the keys like some Victorian mad scientist; I still can't see Ginger; and there's just no adequate description for the one who puts his huge boot up on the monitor and grabs the mike: "Welcome to the Bible Belt - motherfuckers!" The responding roar could powder glass.
Yeah, welcome everyone, welcome to the show we almost lost.

I can see things from back here that I usually don't notice. For the opening of "Cake and Sodomy" the only lighting they use is poured through Ginger's drum kit from a low angle, slashed with shadows as he hammers away, then joined by a spot on Pogo as he slams his drum shots with straight-backed precision. There are four big white spots mounted on the stair railing and the stained glass has colored lights of its own. And of course there's the megarig overhead... It must be insanely complex to run. (But there are still times when the only lights you can see onstage are the little red indicators on Pogo's carry-keyboard.)

"Little Horn" opens with Manson reciting the first verse of Prince's "1999" - I'd never have thought of it but it's uncannily appropriate. "I was dreaming when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray/but when I woke up this morning could've sworn it was Judgment Day..." building to a line the Purple One didn't quite use: "Everybody's gonna die, we could all die here today/but if I've got to die I'm gonna FUCK my life away!"
and then SLAM into the song as the crowd screams. Yow!
Fairchilde arrives on our rail to announce breathlessly that the pit is brutal and she's bailed out; she spends the rest of the night on my right. There's no way I can see across the pit to my compadres on the barricade, but I know they're there, the Sparklers on the left and the Slicers on the right and the rest of P'com dead center. Wish 'em all luck. --It's actually nice to be back here, unbattered for once, able to breathe and move freely. It loses a bit in electricity but it's pretty sweet to be undistracted.

It soon becomes clear that Manson's very aware of exactly whose fault it is that this night almost didn't happen. What's been his standard "It's been a long hard road to [insert your city here]" monologue leading into "Lunchbox" becomes a recital of the fiercest triumph. "They tried to keep us from playing here... and they failed!"
The Spooks roar. "They tried to make us believe in a God who doesn't believe in us - and they fuckin' failed!" The roar doubles. Manson's glowing like a bonfire, voice harsh with victorious rage. "In case by some chance Mr. Bob C. Bobb is listening let's give him a proper salute!" and the air fills with middle fingers. Manson's voice eases down the scale. "They think you should be in church! --but what they don't know is...(in a soft creak that's almost a whisper)...you are in church..." --and rising again: --"so open your hymnals and sing with me! Next motherfucker--" Need I say that every single soul in the place does? (Can the man handle a crowd or what?
I swear, he's graduated from club performer to arena scope without a false step.)

And that's by no means the only namecheck the esteemed Mr. Bobb gets from the good Reverend tonight (one of them inverted - "my anti-Bob Roberts gun" when he should've said "my anti-Robert Bobb gun." But he caught himself in later refs...) And the spoken "1996" used "anti-politicians I fucked and ate."
But my favorite monologue of the night is the lead-in to "Reflecting God." Manson peers off stage left for a moment, doubtless checking on the hordes of cops stationed in the wings. "There's a lot of people with guns here tonight to make sure you don't hurt yourselves, " he remarks. Hoots and laughter. That arid drawl takes an edge. "You know a gun is just an extension of a man's dick..."--the Spooks cheer - "so sing with me, 'cos I'm the biggest dick you know!
Shoot shoot shoot motherfucker--" ...oooh, the 'varks must have been sizzling. Hee.

Followed by a huge RG - "saw Robert Bobb was full of lies!" It's unexpectedly touching when he crouches on the cube and sings "I went to God just to see, and I was looking at you." I know the like of this has been happening from city to city, with this line, and with "each thing I show you is a piece of your death" - perhaps, with the stage set and the monologues, it's a way to make contact with the audience even in these larger venues?
The song's enormous and ends with Manson smashing a mikestand into tinfoil, then
disappearing for good. No "Man That You Fear" tonight.

But we do have aftershow passes, and hmmm, there's an unusual line in Aaron's spiel: "There will be no autographs by Manson in the aftershow." "by Manson"? Would he bother to say that if the Rev didn't plan to show up (Aaron doesn't usually specify names)? --EVB is vibrating, hoping for a chance to make sure Manson got the ring she delivered to him via Aaron last night. You might remember his mentioning in Wheeling that Canadian customs had confiscated his silver Axel claw ring (from the cover of the "Lunchbox" CD) as a weapon, and he'd never gotten it back, and missed it; well, Liz so happened to have an Axel claw ring of her own, and she'd decided to present it to Manson. (This one after all is even more appropriate than the one he lost; the ring band is engraved with a finely detailed pair of wings.) She had it cut down and resized and carried it hopefully to show after show, but never got a chance to offer it to him personally. Finally last night she left it in Aaron's care - he's a trustworthy guy. So what's ahead of us now? ...

The aftershow room is small and we plop on the floor - us three, Kristen, Regina and CKath-E, SHARPTOOTH and tumBLEweED, Fairchilde, the Slice Girls - plenty of family plus the usual 250 locals. As is also usual, several of the 250 are over- and under-dressed rokchix hoping to make it onto the snack tray. One of them is a real classic: an emaciated blonde wearing a teeny purple bikini under a long sheath dress of windowpane fishnet in the same vivid shade of grape, with matching heels. She and the one in the silver satin blouse and shiny little skirt look determined to be someone's dessert. We grin.

Twig comes in, followed shortly by Zim, and they attract a little cluster each (it's surprising how few people who get into the aftershow actually talk to the band members). But then that unmistakable tall silhouette appears in the doorway and all the room's attention shoots to him as if magnetized. He hovers there so long I wonder if he's doubting his decision to appear, but he eventually steps over the threshold and Liz goes straight to him with her important question. She's standing directly between him and me so I can't see him, but I see them shake hands, and when she turns around she's glowing all over. I guess he got the ring. =)
I can see him now - he's wearing a black lace shirt that's way striking with his pale skin and scars. --Liz having withdrawn, Fishnet Girl and her chum move in on Manson with shoulders way back. I watch because it's always fun to see how gracious but absolutely merciless he is with bimbettes. They press up close, asking him questions, fingering the black lace; he's polite, answers them and smiles, but might as well be on the Moon.

I'm trying to get up the nerve to ask him something. It's hard. No matter how clearly I organize my thoughts, I know that when I have to look him in the eye my brain will turn to slush. Still, I know I don't have all night, so I get up from the floor and step around the bimbettes to see if I can get in edgewise. Major compliment: when he sees me out of the corner of his eye he smiles and says hi, then with two fingers on my elbow steers me round in front of him, discreetly but effectively displacing Fishnet Girl. I feel like the cavalry. =)--Now that I'm out of his blind spot (doesn't see too well on the blue-contact side) I've actually got his attention and it's all I can do not to panic, but I manage. Um, I have a question.. Grave nod. I get it out: what's the inspiration for the creature he plays in "Kinderfeld"? Is it one of his dreams? He puts his head on one side, considers a second. "I don't really know. Just something I came up with." Um, okay, thank you...I say something else, probably inane, and bow out. Real cool, self...coyote and Fairchilde step in for a handshake and a word (kinda-petite Fairchilde has to look almost straight up to face the Reverend! =)

After that I just watch the show. Manson curls up in the corner chatting with a coupla'other (much more Spooklike) girls, Aaron hovering protectively two feet away - this is one bodyguard who takes his gig seriously. Liz shares that he's delighted with the ring, wings and all, and that she told him how much we're enjoying the current string of brilliant shows, which I of course didn't have the wit to mention, so that's all good. Damian guarantees a nice conversation by asking Zim about his cats, a question which takes at least an hour to answer properly (he's got five, and calls home every night to check on them). Pogo zips in and out so quickly you could miss him. Fishnet Girl, having struck out with Manson, makes a play for Zim, who rolls his eyes and declines. Twig seems to be discussing designs for a new guitar with someone and never notices her at all. (Fishnet, her evening's plans steamrollered, steps into the hall and dejectedly pulls the padding out of her bra. Yes, I'm serious. "Marilyn didn't love me," she frets to Liz , who tried to convince her there really is a girlfriend...)

And it all winds down. A security guard warns us that people have been assaulted outside (!) and that those of us who aren't familiar with Richmond had better leave in groups and stick together. Um, thanks. We troop off to our respective parking garages. I'm so content I feel perfectly safe, and in fact there's no sign of anyone on the street except fellow Spookies - and poor Satin and Fishnet (whose plaintive cry has become "Brian didn't love me..."), who hike off into the night in heels that must hurt like hell by now.
We're done.

..to main gig review page.
..to the next night.