Marilyn Manson, Brixton Academy, London<br></br>Flint, Egg, London

Lipstick, blood, sweat and petals

I'll never forget the first time I heard of Marilyn Manson. I was sitting in Trent Reznor's room in the Sahara Hotel, Las Vegas, uneasily eyeing a huge bronze be-talonned human hand lying unexplained on the carpet. The Nine Inch Nails singer handed me a CD, entitled Portrait of an American Family, and urged me to listen to it. I looked at the shocky-rocky-horror cover and thought to myself "Nah, I'm leaving that Goth crap behind." I sold it to the Record And Tape Exchange as soon as I got back to London.

I'll never forget the last time I saw Marilyn Manson. Standing on the rooftop of London's Rouge club, having premiered his Golden Age of Grotesque album to a privileged handful of scenesters, with a megaphone to his mouth, shouting random insults to bemused passers-by, who generally looked up, said "Ooh look, it's that Marilyn Manson", then wandered away. (It was reminiscent of that story in The Onion: "Marilyn Manson Now Going Door-To-Door Trying To Shock People.") Some time in the intervening decade, I had a conversion. "The Dope Show", with its codeine-cold glam stomp and its androgynously alien video, hooked me in, and the Holy Wood tour, which I covered for this paper, enlisted me unequivocally to the Manson Army. Many's the time I've kicked myself for that early rejection, but in retrospect, I didn't miss much (up until Antichrist Superstar, the music mostly sucked).

What I'm absolutely certain about - even more so after tonight's show - is that Manson is the smartest player in rock'n'roll, and one of the most consistently interesting and intelligent artists operating (how many of you, when he popped up in Bowling For Columbine, thought "Here we go, that dumbass pantomime dame who wants to be Alice Cooper", but went away admitting that he was the most articulate interviewee in the whole film?).

Before he's even begun, bodies are being dragged away. Crowd surfers are clambering through a sea of horned salutes. When he appears, arms flung crucifixion-wide in a batwinged frock coat, there is - almost literally - pandemonium.

As his band - all master race-blond in contrast with their black-bobbed singer - strike up "This Is The New Shit", the atmosphere is that of a Nazi rally. This is no accident. Amid the post-9/11 mood, Manson - realising that straightforward dissent would no longer be brooked - cleverly switched to satire. In content and in style, The Golden Age of Grotesque mimics the Weimar era which immediately preceded the rise of the Third Reich in Germany, and you don't need to be a genius to see what he is driving at. But when he announces, in the middle of a freeform rant, "This is a Caucasian occasion", even his own faithful make "oohs" and "aahs" at the ambiguous tightrope-walk between irony and offence.

Any pictures of Manson from his youth, when he was - to borrow a title chapter from his (fantastic) autobiography, The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell - "a worm" - show an ugly child. But he has made a brilliant job of transforming himself into a self-created paradigm of freakish beauty. Tonight, he looks incredible, in neon make-up, corset, lederhosen, eight-inch platforms, and a succession of bowlers and toppers and Mickey Mouse ears (word has it that Manson is lined up to play Willy Wonka in Tim Burton's remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

And of course, there are the stunts. Notably the mechanically-elevating dress. (At a show in Newport, a technician once mischievously gaffer-taped himself to the roof, purely so he could grin insanely at Manson when he reached the apex of this stunt. The great man was shaken, but sang on.) This is theatre, but it's no sterile display: it's lipstick and blood and sweat and petals. One fan throws a bouquet of roses, and guitarist John 5 thrashes them against his fretboard until they disintegrate, grinning a lopsided lipgloss grin.

And this is the theatre of populism. The theatre of the mob. Hence "mOBSCENE" (the fantastic cheerleader chant of a single), and hence every hit he's ever had: "Disposable Teens", "Rock Is Dead", "Tainted Love", "Fight Song". At the end of "The Beautiful People", Manson throws aside the ambiguity and throws an actual Hitler salute. If you don't get the point now, you never will.

Over at Egg, a new venue in the warehouseland north of Kings Cross, Keith Flint, clad in battered leather, comes hurtling out of the traps like a rabid pitbull, his peroxide hair creosoted into an off-centre mohican, nods to his two-drummered band, made up of various mates and members of Pitchshifter and, as they launch into some souped-up Sex Pistols riffology, starts screaming, in a manner oddly reminiscent of a jet engine's turbines hitting full speed and with a ring of kohl around his eyes, about "rehab!" and "kamikaze!" and "rock'n'roll!" Now, I've met Keith Flint, and he's lovely. Wouldn't say "boo" to a goose. If you brought a goose in here right now, he'd say "Oh, what a lovely goose! Can I get you some grain?" And I've got a lot of time for Keith Flint the pop star. As vocalist/ mascot with The Prodigy, he managed to get the "Firestarter" video banned from Top of the Pops purely by dancing in a menacing manner. Can't say fairer than that. But Flint, his downtime solo project, are a busman's holiday of a band. Basically The Prodigy without the electronics - they even have their own version of "Baby's Got A Temper" (retitled "Razor") - Flint are pointless. As he climbs up onto the speaker stacks and stares down at the sea of fins and mullets (and Boy George), he must know this, deep down.

It's not so much a case of "don't give up the day job", more a case of "this is the day job - what are you, a workaholic?" As he screams "gotta get awaaay", you wonder why he holidays so close to home.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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