Twelve years is a long, long time between visits to the UK for an American artist. Particularly one as loved in the metal scene as Rob Zombie. Or was that “did love”? Let’s be honest, much of his solo material has been, well, kinda half-assed on record, reaching a nadir on the dreadful Educated Horses, a point where I was thinking he’d now got tired of making music and was far more bothered with his burgeoning horror movie director career. So the arrival of Hellbilly Deluxe 2 last year – which actually showed signs of life again, with some cracking songs on it, and then the announcement of this tour, came as a little bit of a surprise. Perhaps he was still bothered after all.
So were the fans, too, if the speed that this six-date tour sold out in was anything to go by. Happily enough my girlfriend and I were lucky enough to get tickets, and I detected more than a hint of excitement about this show in the run-up to it, much more so perhaps than many other industrial or metal bands. That might have had something to do with the fact that Rob Zombie has a reputation for putting on a show, something so few of his peers even understand. Sometimes, you know, we want more than just a super-tight band playing songs that sound exactly like their recorded equivalents.
But before the main event, there were support bands, of course. Totally missed first band Revoker – we were in the pub – but we did get to see most of Skindred, who were as ever good fun. Not many other bands I can term themselves “ragga metal” – but it’s an appropriate description – and are capable of making so many people bounce. Benji has an infectious energy, and the band were clearly a popular choice as support. The last time I saw them, by the way, they were playing a tiny club in Huddersfield. It’s a hell of a step up to Brixton…
Skindred were hauled off bang-on 2045, which suggested perhaps that we might have a punctual performance. No such luck – as more and more stage props and items were assembled behind a dropped curtain, it became very clear that there were a few problems – seemingly with the fucking enormous robot in the centre of the stage, from what we could tell. So the 2115 start time quickly slipped to 2130, before the lights finally dropped and the crowd roared it’s approval.
All that fuss over the robot quickly made sense, as Rob Zombie made an impressive entrance amid smoke, lasers, flames and an impressive array of video screens to lead the whole crowd in a thumping Jesus Frankenstein – with said robot providing a startling backdrop, before he was rolled offstage, and something like frankenstein’s monster chased Rob around the stage!
This was only a taste of what was to come. The set wandered through the Zombie history, touching briefly on old White Zombie (a ripping More Human Than Human with Rob dancing with a monster onstage), old Rob Zombie (a supercharged Superbeast where I swear the crowd sang pretty much all the chorus, and a slightly ragged Living Dead Girl, not that anyone cared for the mistakes and instead gleefully grooved along), and newer Rob Zombie (Mars Needs Women was a revelation, with an eye popping stageshow and awesome visuals), and just about everything in between.
Sinners Inc./Sawdust in the Blood/Call of the Zombie [Intro]
Scum of the Earth
Living Dead Girl
More Human Than Human
Mars Needs Women
Never Gonna Stop (The Red, Red Kroovy)
Thunder Kiss ’65
Werewolf Women of the SS
House of 1000 Corpses
Lords of Salem
Really, this was awesome fun. Chatty and engaging between songs, it didn’t take long to apologise for how long it was since he last visited (amusingly blaming guitarist John5 for being “afraid of flying”), there was something of a wistful love for his old band – the only problem for me being that there should have been more than two White Zombie songs in the set – in his introductions to the songs, and there was some marvellous moments of humour in the visual feast on stage, too. Crazy monster suits, tentacle porn and Russ Meyer films on screen, blasts of flame, balloons, pink-and-orange beachballs unleashed on the crowd (watching black-clad goths carrying them out afterwards was priceless), not to mention what appeared to be an ad-libbed pisstake when Thunderkiss ’65 was introduced. Rob noting that we’d heard it before, right, and we didn’t need to hear it again, as John5 teased out the immortal riff. So he stopped and slipped into Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), of course from his old employer Marilyn Manson, and Rob’s dig at MM suggested that there was no love lost there.
You also got the feeling that Rob Zombie’s grounding in schlocky-horror films has helped to keep his sense of humour, too. I hadn’t noticed previously – partly ‘cos I’ve still not seen it – that he’d directed one of the fake trailers for Grindhouse/Planet Terror, and that became the song Werewolf Women of the SS, which introduced the encore. The trailer is ridiculous (Nicholas Cage as Dr. Fu Manchu – what an inspired idea!), and the song isn’t much less so.
Perhaps to be expected, though, was that Dragula was the climax of the set, and pretty much upstaged everything else played all night. Rob Zombie directed proceedings – with the band all dressed in union jack tailcoats! – from a monster-head platform about ten feet up, and the whole venue simply exploded into life one more time for what remains his finest and goofiest (solo) song. The silver and black ticker tape that was unleashed on the crowd suggested the end of things for the night, but I have to say I was surprised that there was another encore. The thing is, the slower, less well-known tracks that made up the last encore really did feel like something of an anti-climax after the awesomeness of Dragula.
So it wasn’t perfect – not enough White Zombie, the odd pacing of the encore, the delays – but it was enormous fun. Rob Zombie, like Rammstein, clearly realised a while ago that it’s far more fun and much more rewarding for everyone to have a proper show. Not just music, but visual entertainment too. This delivered in spades, and was worth the wait. Those of you still waiting to see him this week (or at Download), you’re in for an absolute treat.