For a guy who claims he does not like to be the center of attention, Rob Zombie is an impressive showman. At a show Tuesday night (December 1) at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, Zombie transcended his role as the frontman of a rock band and became a twisted carnival barker, borrowing moves from great metal singers, gilded age illusionists, sideshow hype men and horror film producer Val Lewton. The result was not only 90 minutes of Zombie’s patented industrial metal stew but also a fully-realized sight and sound experience.
Following a clip from his recently-released animated film “The Haunted World of El Superbeasto,” Zombie stormed the stage to pound out the spooky “What Lurks on Channel X?” before turning up the BPMs for “Superbeast.” “I heard that New York was kind of mellow tonight,” Zombie taunted between songs, further escalating the already-rabid sentiment among the fans in the pit. With the help of a surgically adept trio of musicians behind him (all of which joined Zombie for his forthcoming album Hellbilly Deluxe 2), Zombie bounced around his deep catalog and brushed up against hits from his solo career (“Living Dead Girl,” “Demonoid Phenomenon,” “Never Gonna Stop (The Red Red Kroovy)”) as well as a handful of tunes from his former band White Zombie (including extra-savage takes on “More Human Than Human” and “Super-Charger Heaven,” both of which are from the band’s incredible final album Astro-Creep 2000: Songs of Love, Destruction and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head).
Both Zombie’s films and his music borrow heavily from multiple past inspirations, and his stage show is no different. The giant video screen behind him delivered a constant barrage of old film clips, bits of animation, stag footage and excerpts from music videos. There’s even a bit of classic rock posturing in Zombie’s show, as at one point he left the stage to allow for a drum solo and later made the audience beg for him to play White Zombie’s breakout hit “Thunderkiss ’65.”
Two songs from the forthcoming Hellbilly Deluxe 2 found their way into the set, and in a brilliant move, Zombie created a pair of gimmicks to help the unfamiliar material go down smoother. For the first single “Sick Bubble-Gum,” he taught the crowd to shout along to the song’s bridge (the easy-to-remember refrain “Rock, motherf—er!”). And he cleared out a space for an all-girl mosh pit during the speedy two minutes of “What?”
Other highlights included the rarely-played “Scum of the Earth” and the set-closing death disco that is “Dragula.” When the music ended, the band lingered, tossing keepsakes into the crowd and posing for a picture on stage. Like the hardcores who showed up, they didn’t want the night to end.