UNIVERSAL CITY, California The irony that Rob Zombie helmed his directorial film debut, House of 1000 Corpses, roughly 100 yards from the Universal Amphitheatre was not lost on the singer Saturday as he played there with his band. Universal bankrolled the $7 million pic and subsequently refused to distribute it after executives viewed a grisly rough-cut. With Zombie's Demon Speeding Tour hitting the concert venue arm of the Universal Studios fun zone, the schlock-and-horror-peddling performer saw fit to utilize the occasion to give fans an update on the film's status and to rock them like the proverbial hurricane.
Zombie emerged from a large devil's face around 10 p.m., prancing about the stage like a merry pied-piper alongside his look-a-like bandmates and amidst unending pyrotechnics and lights. Video screens displayed images from his promo clips, old movies, Japanimation and shots of a pouting Bettie Page, all culminating in a mess of "evil" and sexual sensory overload.
It was only a few songs in that the group threw up House of 1000 Corpses clips, as the intro to the song of the same name got moving with a slow, deliberate rumble. After a rambling description of the Motion Picture Association of America as the people who have "decided you are all too stupid to watch what you want to, Zombie explained to fans as well as several cast members purported to be in the audience that the movie has finally been trimmed to a theatrically friendly "R" rating. An "R" that carries with it, the bearded singer bragged, "a special warning" for "sadistic violence."
The movie's "sadistic violence" notwithstanding, Zombie's live show like his cowboy-hat-and-denim image, scarcely modified over the years persists at being a bit more silly than scary. The "horror" is of the kitsch B-movie variety and the tunes culled from his two proper solo albums and several years fronting White Zombie are heavy but not too edgy. It's all throbbing rhythm, punching guitar and catchy choruses peppered with so many "yeahs" that one fan Web site devotes an entire page to counting them.
Zombie's schtick seemed right at home on the lot, with his action figures lining nearby shop shelves alongside Universal's more famous monsters. But the cannibalism, witchcraft and general sickness on display in the clips left little doubt as to the nature of Universal's misgivings. It was difficult for the singer to resist the chance to prod the company a little bit, joking that the film footage he was showing had been "snuck out" of a Universal vault.
As if the differences between the dreadlocked rocker and his pop contemporaries were not already readily apparent, earlier in the performance Zombie distinguished his "are there any girls here" question from any similarly minded 'NSYNC banter. He clarified that he was looking for females of the "satanic" persuasion, before launching into "Living Dead Girl."
There were at least two women in attendance displayed on the stage in a prop-like fashion virtually indistinguishable from the green-faced tiki-god-like visages that adorned the left and right of John Tempesta's massive drum riser. It's questionable whether the obvious objectification bothered any of the black-wearing women in the crowd, or if guitarist Riggs' rebel flag back patch was offensive to the very small number of ethnic minorities in attendance.
Politics notwithstanding, to paraphrase an Ozzy Osbourne lyric, Zombie may not be quite the man we think he is; he's clearly not the Antichrist. After all, it's hard to imagine Damien Thorn of the flick "The Omen" encouraging a crowd of followers to look at the person next to them and say, "Hey, can we get this thing jumping?" as Zombie requested before "More Human Than Human."
Zombie's similarities to the legendary Sabbath frontman and solo artist for whom he recently directed a video clip are obvious, though Alice Cooper is probably a more direct philosophical/ theatrical forefather. The self-proclaimed "hellbilly" most likely won't be metamorphosing into a sober, golf-playing, born-again Christian anytime soon, but his stage show lacks the ideological dogma of say, Marilyn Manson. Zombie's invitations to "worship Satan" come across as overtly hokey and knowingly camp. Whether or not everyone in attendance at the L.A. gig was in on the "joke" is perhaps irrelevant.