After the 2013 release of Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor, Rob Zombie had the opportunity to launch his own theme park-cum-music festival, Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare. Billed as “the ultimate haunted house/music event,” it included three haunted houses – House Of 1000 Corpses, Lords Of Salem Total Blackout, and The Haunted World Of El Superbeasto 3D, all based on Zombie’s films and characters – the Bloody Boulevard – an entertainment “street” featuring food stalls and other vendors, suitably creepy food and drink, carnival rides, freak shows, and roaming characters – and other musical entertainment. The festival didn’t last, though the tour for Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor spawned Zombie’s second live album, Spookshow International Live.
The Great American Nightmare, which began in LA in 2013, before moving to Phoenix (in 2014) and Chicago (2014-15), seemed like the perfect platform for a fully immersive Rob Zombie live experience, but the event didn’t run in 2016, and has shown no signs of revival since. Though it was never captured on celluloid to relive in the confines of a darkened living room, Zombie did, however, keep the tapes rolling throughout the Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor shows, and on January 1, 2015, he announced the release of Spookshow International Live.
Zombie stated: “It’s been eight years since our last live album so we figured it was time for another. Actually, we weren’t planning on it, but we recorded a few shows and they sounded really great so we thought, F__k it, let’s get it out there.” There would be, he added, “no overdubs, no fixes, no fake crowd, no nothing. One hundred percent absolutely live. No joke.” Even the artwork – a grainy black-and-white live shot with a scratchy, handwritten font – is the embodiment of DIY. Spookshow International Live is so low-key, in fact, that even today it doesn’t have its own Wikipedia page.
Without any fuss or fanfare, then, Spookshow International Live emerged on February 24, 2015. It wouldn’t seem right for a Rob Zombie party to start with anything other than “Teenage Nosferatu Pussy” – its sultry groove is an irresistible invitation into the captivating world of Zombie’s hellacious imagination: “I am so hazardous/My name is Lazarus/I am a pirate on a devil ship…” Big scary fun. Your most salacious nightmares made flesh. As Zombie himself says, “Tonight’s the night to get weird.” But, hey, isn’t that every night for Rob Zombie?
Though Rob Zombie is known primarily as a solo artist, on this set he is backed by what is not only his most well-known supporting band, but also his most solid and dependable. John 5 is the long-standing guitarist who joined the group in 2005, after six years with Marilyn Manson. Bassist Piggy D co-writes with Rob Zombie and has contributed to John 5’s solo material. Another refugee from the Marilyn Manson camp, drummer Ginger Fish, has, since his arrival in 2011, ingrained himself so firmly into the Rob Zombie fold that, on Spookshow International Live, he earned a spot for a drum solo. Sure, it only lasts 40 seconds and leads into the White Zombie hit “More Human Than Human,” but that’s still high praise coming from Rob Zombie, who rarely shares the spotlight with anyone.
This solid line-up serves to underline what a banging set of tunes Rob Zombie has in his canon. There’s “Dragula” and “Meet The Creeper,” long-standing live staples that date back to his debut solo album, Hellbilly Deluxe, which, incidentally, still sounds fresh two decades after its original release. And there are mid-career ragers “Demon Speeding,” “Sick Bubblegum” and “House Of 1000 Corpses.” There are also the obligatory White Zombie classics “More Human Than Human” and “Thunder Kiss ’65” as a tip of the hat to the band that was the springboard to Zombie’s twin careers as musician and director. There’s even a rare cover of Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.” In fact, there’s such a wealth of material for Zombie to draw from that Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor, the very album he was touring when this live album was recorded, barely gets a look in at all.
The Spookshow International Live tracklist offers enough variety to set it apart from his previous live album, 2007’s Zombie Live, while the production quality in itself offers a completely different listening experience from that release. Though the songs cross over with the tracklist for The Zombie Horror Picture Show – the 2014 concert film released on Blu-ray and DVD – the two were designed not to step on each others’ toes. With The Zombie Horror Picture Show the intention was to experience the full visual assault of a Rob Zombie live show; Spookshow International Live is a no-frills interpretation. The raw nature of the recording serves as a reminder that, though they’re an integral part of Rob Zombie’s work, he doesn’t need to hide behind flash bombs and projection screens. He knows how to deliver the sounds, too: one banger after another.