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Marilyn Manson is well on his way to becoming nothing more than a pink Trivial Pursuit question. He and his band are in the midst of a big-deal national tour to promote their new release, Holy Wood, selling out some large arenas across the country. But here in his hometown, the kid struggled to fill Sunrise Musical Theatre November 11. The center of the hall was flush with fervent devotees, but the edges were less populated, and the ticket holders there acted less than impressed. In fact many were arm-crossed and skeptical.

With good reason: Not only does the new material have more than a whiff of rote metal boredom about it, but Mr. Manson's much-vaunted stage presentation left much to be desired. The dry wall stilts may be cute, but they worked better when old Nivek Ogre from Skinny Puppy put 'em on ten years ago. The difference is that Ogre looked like a huge stick insect contorted by radiation sickness, whereas Manson just looked like himself: a bare-assed glam rocker.

That's forgivable if you can forget where he's been. Back in 1994 yours truly had the pleasure of taking in a Nine Inch Nails concert in Denver with opening acts the Jim Rose Circus and a larval-stage Marilyn Manson. I wasn't aware that just the evening before, Manson's sacrilegious antics had been met with stern disapproval in Salt Lake City, where he and his band were invited to stop performing midconcert. At the Denver show, Mr. Brian Warner was clearly seething over that affront and delivered a ferocious performance. The best he could muster last week in Sunrise was a canned, insincere rehash of his once-pure rage. Now that he's eaten his fill from the rock-star chuck wagon, I just can't believe he's really that unhappy.

After stifling a few yawns, Bandwidth bailed for Wilton Manors and the cramped confines of Shakespeare's Pub and its fine selection of quaffable ales. The fertile pop music microcosm of "Poptopia," the once-a-month showcase at Shakespeare's, is not only a much-needed respite from metal and electronica, it's proving to be an incubator for local talent. See Venus made its live debut in front of a packed house that night. We caught only the last few songs, but what we did hear was extremely promising. The subtle vocal harmonies of Erica Boynton and Rocky Ordoñez were entrancing as Eddie Alonso's keyboard spilled out a noisy swirl of samples -- a real treat for the eyes and ears.

Next up were the New Graduates, a busy local act that just keeps getting better. Singer Todd Oenbrink had added a couple more shirt-tugging and eyeglass-adjusting moves to his arsenal of affectations, and barefoot guitarist Earl Coraluzzo's mastery over his chiming Rickenbacker and suitcase full of effects pedals was more skillful than ever. Get past the occasional Oasis-aping and you'll discover much to love about the New Graduates.

One of the area's best live acts in any genre, Ed Matus' Struggle has done the right thing: The boys have dumped their confusing name and now officially operate under the rubric Disconnect, breaking out the new handle at a Culture Room show last weekend with the aforementioned New Graduates, the Rocking Horse Winner, and Anchorman. The real Ed Matus' one-man electronic project performed under the appellation Fashionista. Matus should expect a decrease in the number of cretins who approach him to ask, "Dude, what's your struggle?"

"Yeah, he likes it," confirms EMS/Disconnect guitarist Juan Montoya. "I'm glad, too. It's a simple name, and it fits the music. And it was pretty much the only name we could all agree on." The group has been passing out a fresh four-song disc emblazoned with the new name. The change will take some getting used to, but it's for the best.

The Chili Pepper celebrated a grand reopening of sorts last week after toying with the idea of renaming the club. In fact Bandwidth received a jump-the-gun e-mail last week reading, "The Chili Pepper is dead.... [L]ong live Zodiac." But don't expect the club's tenacity to please those hard-nosed Fort Lauderdale city commissioners, some of whom still consider the place to be a den of iniquity. Former Chili Pepper landscaping guru and Fort Lauderdale vice mayor Tim Smith, for instance, remains bent out of shape regarding the Chili Pepper's massage-table stations and what he refers to as "cool-off booths."

"They're treating the symptoms of drugs in the club," he explains, "so they're enabling people to do illegal drugs. That's irresponsible adult behavior. The massage tables and the cool-off booths help counteract the bad, you know, things that come out of the drugs."

Club Manager Skip Murray disputes that. "The only "cool-down booth,' we have is a champagne room," he snorts. "And the massage tables are just like when we had piercing-and-tattooing tables.... [They] have nothing to do with rolling."

Granted, sometimes a massage table is just a massage table, but with the city looking upon anyone having a good time as a threat to the maintenance of law and order, this might not be a good time to antagonize your friendly neighborhood city commissioner.

However, just as the Chili Pepper tried to turn over a new leaf, its very first retooled weekend was marred by bad behavior. On Saturday, November 25, an early-morning ruckus involving fisticuffs and broken beer bottles brought yet another fire-rescue response team to the club. Four men were hospitalized, one in serious condition.

Not our fault, says Murray. "These people were driving by," he relates. "We were closed. They stopped the car at the corner of our building, jumped out, and got into an altercation with this other guy. The only involvement we had is that one of these idiots straggled onto our patio, and one of our doormen turned him around and escorted him back out."

Given that the Chili Pepper is surrounded by parking lots serving several downtown establishments, Murray feels that the fracas was unfairly pinned on his joint.

"It's getting blatant," he gripes. "If it happens anywhere near our building, it's attributed to us."

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton