A private party thrown to celebrate the opening of Taiwan’s first GAP outlet drew more of a crowd than a performance by American shock rock veteran Rob Zombie in Taipei on March 7. The celebrity-strewn gala thrown on the street below ATT Showbox in the Xinyi District brought in the usual crowd of gawkers hoping to catch a fleeting glimpse of someone dubiously famous with the siren call of thumping house music. Meanwhile, Showbox had the curtain pulled, closing off half the premises so as not to subject Zombie, guitarist John 5, bassist Piggy D, and unearthly drummer Ginger Fish to the sight of a cavernous quarter-filled venue.
The ghoulish frontman, made up as always like an undead corpse, made numerous references to the fact that the show was the smallest the band had ever played during the course of his 16-year solo career following the implosion of White Zombie, the band that launched him to stardom. Toward the end of the show, he commented on the raucous, if sparse, crowd.
“This might be the smallest show we’ve ever played, but it just might be the most fun we’ve ever had.”
Why the low turnout for the Alice Cooper of his generation? The golden age of shock rock is over. The Twin Terrors of Zombie and Marilyn Manson are both in the twilight of their respective music careers. Galactic immortals GWAR, though still going strong, are also getting on in years. One-time heir apparent Wednesday 13 mostly plays the club circuit, coming closest to achieving the arena rock level of his peers with the now-defunct Murderdolls. At least in Zombie’s case he has film directing to fall back on.
The disappointing gate on March 7 certainly had nothing to do with the quality of the product. Nearing 50 years old, Zombie is still every bit the showman he has always been. Lithe, wiry and constantly mobile, he darted about under the watchful eyes of floor-to-ceiling horror camp backdrops, whirling, gyrating and stepping with all the swagger a man with 30 years in show business tucked into his fringed jacket pocket has earned. An ethical vegan for decades, his energy alone is enough to make you wonder if there might be something to this clean living thing.
Now touring in support of his fifth album, Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor, Zombie knows how to play the demonic shaman to the crowd — how to inspire devotion with little more than a well-timed gesture or a grim shift of his deathly facial features — but when it comes to creating his music, it’s not the crowd he considers, and certainly not the critics. In a pre-show interview with the Taipei Times, he recalled the last time he actually cared about the reviews of his albums.
“It was very early on where I thought they meant something. And then I met the person who wrote the review, and I was like, ‘Forget it. This is stupid.’ You read it and you think, ‘This guy must be so cool and bad ass,’ and you meet some dweeby little writer. It’s meant nothing since about 1985,” Zombie said.
For those of us who were too young during the time Zombie alludes to, there are the legendary if slightly apocryphal tales of the outright insanity that prevailed at shows during that era. Broken necks at a Cro-Mags video shoot. Wanton destruction of crowd barriers at Exodus gigs. It makes you wonder just where all that unchecked fury went when you go to a show nowadays. Things seem a lot tamer today by comparison.