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Why canâ??t this be Love? 

When it was first announced that Marilyn Manson and Courtney Love would be sharing an Orlando stage, mischievous laughter seemed the only appropriate response. What sadistic promoter, one wondered, had dropped this powder-keg package of assured blasphemy into the lap of a notoriously unamused community? From Manson's Satanic iconography and "just say yes" drug advocacy to Love's questionable family values and propensity for onstage violence, the pairing filled every requirement for a take-no-prisoners assault on the gates of our sun-kissed heaven.

Last week's announcement that the Love-led Hole had left the tour -- and thus, would not make it to Orlando with Manson -- was a disappointment to those of us who take perverse pleasure in any messy spectacle. But it was hardly a shock: The demonic duo had been trading barbs in the press for months, leading some to wonder if they'd make it through the trek without slaughtering each other (a speculation that wasn't wholly unjustified, given the rumors that Love was already in the habit of calling out hits on whoever stood in her way).

It had seemed more likely, however, that the blatant publicity stunt of a package tour would fizzle out due to lack of interest. A March 6 concert on Love's home turf of Portland, Ore., was such a nonstarter that the temperamental singer quit in disgust after 45 minutes of playing to a half-empty house. Even before Hole bailed out for good, the Orlando Arena date reportedly wasn't even close to selling out, despite the closing of the upper bowl to ticket buyers.

Our city's moral watchdogs can't be that upset. Love's 1995 acquittal on charges of assaulting a couple of patrons at the now-defunct Edge is the stuff of local legend (and the subject of an ongoing court dispute, with the exonerated amateur pugilist seeking $27,543 in unpaid legal fees). Manson is hardly in the running for an Orange County Commission seat, either. Depending on who you believe, his past appearances here have seen him performing sex acts on his bandmates, wiping his bottom with the American flag and/or undergoing unnecessary surgery midset.

Outwardly, Manson is unconcerned that Love's departure may have threatened his spot in the City Beautiful's rogues' gallery. "Our show is bigger and better than ever," he stated in a press fax last Tuesday, "and Hole leaving the tour won't alter our plans in any way."

Still, this is the same man who told Alternative Press "My capitalist heart outweighs any of my feelings. This tour -- it's kind of important." He knows he's lost a key (if involuntary) ally in his whistle-stop campaign to overcome the flat sales of his current and hugely hyped "Mechanical Animals" CD. (Love's "Celebrity Skin" was no traffic-builder either, but anyone who's followed her movie career can't credit her with sound business sense.)

Don't expect show openers Monster Magnet to take up the scandalous slack. Though loud and profane, they're so goofily earnest in their old-school headbanging as to be ultimately benign. On the other hand, they employ the same sort of psychedelic light show that the city of Orlando has identified as a leading cause of drug use. Two points for serendipitous relevance.

If Manson wants to keep his gadfly's reputation intact, he has his dirty work cut out for him. Perhaps he can indulge his increasing penchant for transvestism by pillaging whatever schoolgirl fashions Love has left laying around backstage. Maybe he can turn the tables on the former Mrs. Cobain by paying a willing audience member to put her on ice for a change.

Or maybe, just maybe, he'll recognize that his best bet is to go on stage on time, play well and indulge in some onstage banter and antics whose true wit befits a man who titled his previous CD "Antichrist Superstar." With Love gone and the $30 ticket price still in place, delivering such value for money would be the most pleasant jolt of all. Meeting simple notoriety with genuine personality has always been a surefire shock tactic precisely because it's so rare; as the age of arena rock crawls toward the millennial finish line, it may be the only outrage that's left.

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