If you discovered Ministry in the early 80’s, you may have frequented dance clubs and sported Depeche Mode t-shirts and black nail polish (regardless of gender). If you discovered Ministry in the mid-to-late 80’s you probably kept the nail polish, but adorned a leather jacket and a piss-and-vinegar attitude. In the 90’s, you may have been a metal-head or a passenger on the alternative music bandwagon. The early aughts brought more metal fans into the fold as Ministry morphed almost entirely into a thrash metal band.
I discovered Ministry in the 90’s with their ridiculously successful single “Jesus Built My Hotrod.” When Psalm 69 hit in 92, they were among my favorite bands. Ministry was mysterious, provocative, and almost singular in sound and vision.
Doors were listed for 7pm, but living in the neighborhood – and just generally excited – I decided to stroll down to the newly re-born Bomb Factory a little after 6. When I arrived there was already a line, and as luck would have it, they were apparently doing the VIP meet and greet at 6:30.
VIP MEET & GREET
I checked in at the box office, grabbed my tix and laminate, and headed towards the entrance. I was one of the last to enter the VIP and there were probably 20-25 other people there. They had the band set up at a table perpendicular to the merch booth. The table began with guitarist Sin Quirin, who has played with Jourgensen for several years now and contributed to the last few RevCo albums, as well as Ministry’s most recent work. Guitarist Cesar Soto (from the El Paso, TX band Pissing Razors), bassist Tony Campos (Soulfly, Fear Factory), keyboardist John Bechdel (Fear Factory, Killing Joke, Prong), and drummer Aaron Rossi (Prong, John 5) followed in succession. These guys couldn’t have been nicer. They gladly signed autographs and took photos with fans. Likely, not typifying what you’d expect from a band with a sound so dark and fierce.
Before I knew it, I was face-to-face with Uncle Al. Smartly, I had arrived in a Rigor Mortis t-shirt to pay tribute to Dallas-native and former Ministry guitarist, the late Mike Scaccia. This got his attention immediately. “Man, I’ve been wearing that shirt all day! But, I won’t wear it onstage, out of respect,” he tells me. “Yeah, well, I grew up in Arlington, so when I was learning guitar, he was one of my heroes,” I replied. “He was my best friend, man, I think about him everyday.” Of course, the brief dialogue I had initiated was interrupted, but his attention quickly returned. “Would you sign my posters, please?” I ask, somewhat timidly. “Yeah, man. You guys are putting our food on the table, I’m here for you,” he replies. Somewhat dumbfounded, a little starstruck, I next finagled a photo-op. Some previous fans, not all women, had sat on his lap for their photo opportunity. So, I told him, “I’m not gonna sit on your lap, dude.” “Right on,” he replies, slowly standing up. “Can we do a Johnny Cash?” I ask him, flashing a middle finger. “Oh, fuck yeah,” he says, pulling a WWII era gas mask over his face, “Let’s do this.” He throws his arm around me, we stick it to the man, and life is good. I say thanks and slowly levitate away from the table. Al continues to sign a few more autographs, fan art, a Land of Rape and Honey LP, and of course, even some old broads tits.
The rest of the band was still hanging out, so I approached guitarists Sin Quirin and Cesar Soto. They greet me again and I ask, “So who’s playing Mikey’s leads tonight?” Soto replies, “well I play some, Sin plays some.” “Yeah, depends on the song,” says Quirin. “Who can play “TV Song?” I ask, bluntly. “Uh…well, that’s probably why it’s not on the setlist!” Quirin tells me, Soto laughs.” “Well, thanks guys, I’m looking forward to the show,” I say and head over to a group of fans. We recount our stories of meeting Al, and one of them tells me that Al told him a new Lard (his collaboration with Jello Biafra) album would be done in August and his new project, Surgical Meth Machine, would be done by years end. The Lard project was something Scaccia was trying to resuscitate shortly before his own untimely death. And I have no idea if “done” means “released.”
I mention that I actually brought more stuff for Al to sign. I’m not even an autograph guy, but I just figured I’d never have another chance to be in the same room with him. “You think I’d be pushing my luck if I asked him to sign a few more things?” “No way, man. He’s the coolest guy. He’s so nice.” Again, a little dumbfounded, but fresh off a pretty cool interaction, I said fuck it. I went back up to the table. “Hey, it’s me again. I’m just livin’ life to the fullest, trying to make the most of my opportunities,” I stammer. “Me too, brother,” Al responds firmly. “Would it be too much to ask you to sign a few more things?” “Fuck yeah, that’s what this meet and greet is all about.” I pull out my CD’s of the Revolting Cocks, Linger Ficken Good, and Lard’s “The Last Temptation of Reid.” He quickly signs the RevCo cover and then seems a little surprised by the Lard CD. “Yeah, I love that album, man,” I tell him, “I also got the Trax! Box set on Record Store Day.” “Oh yeah, the old school stuff,” he replies, but we’re interrupted by someone. “Thanks, Al.” “Thank you,” he says frankly. Soon thereafter, the band slowly filed out and the rest of us VIP-er’s waited before they opened the venue’s main doors.
The bands SixxiS and Avatar opened the show with 45-minute sets each. I had never heard of either of these bands prior to this show and didn’t really pay them much attention. I caught about 10 minutes of each bands set and I will say both were really good. Both bands were tight and fairly rocking. But, my focus was elsewhere.
I spent my time mingling amongst the fans, mostly outside in the smoking area, conspicuously connected to a food truck. The crowd demo ranged from 20-somethings to folks that I’d estimate were late-40’s/early-50’s. Saw a dude wearing a faded red “Burning Inside” tee. Another guy, early 40’s-ish, wearing a Skinny Puppy shirt. I chatted up a cute, 20-something blonde in a The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste t-shirt. She was there with two other ladies, one – her mother – sporting a vintage Misfits tee. I met a few dudes in my age-group (30-something) who were introduced to the band with the Psalm 69 album. “That was my first concert! They were so fucking loud!” one guy shouts in my ear. “I saw them on Lollapalooza and it was epic! Everyone just left when the Chili Peppers came on. They were just suddenly… an after thought,” a gray-haired, heavily tatted, and rotund biker tells me. I notice a young dude, wearing one of the VIP t-shirts, a black “X” written on each hand, and ask him about the meet and greet. He arrived late, so missed out on the VIP. I ask him what his favorite Ministry album was: “Rio Grande Blood, definitely. That’s the album that introduced me to the band.”
I went back inside to check the status of the bands and I noticed they were setting up the Ministry stage, as indicated by the emergence of Uncle Al’s skull and bones microphone stand. I quickly grab another beer and headed out to the food truck for a Shanghai Hotdog (Asian cole-slaw, wasabi mustard, and Sriracha, $7). Two attractive, mid-30’s goth chicks ask me if Avatar has played yet. When I tell them they have and Ministry is about to go on their faces instantly express disappointment. “Y’all aren’t here to see Ministry?” “They’re okay,” they deadpan in unison. “Well, prepare to have your ear drums obliterated,” I say as I head back inside. Cute enough, but come on, who the fuck is Avatar?
The band comes on stage and kick off the opening bars of “Hail to His Majesty (Peasants),” and Uncle Al follows a few minutes later, gas mask on, and the crowd goes ape shit. They sang along, word-for-word, as he screamed “I’m Al fucking Jourgensen!” Jourgensen, in good spirits, stalked the stage, egged on the fans, and mimed and lip-synced along to the various samples that traverse each song. The song “PermaWar” was highlighted by Al’s harmonica solo. The acoustics at the Bomb Factory are superb and I was kinda surprised I could actually hear the harmonica – what with the sheer volume of the guitars, drums, and sundry samples and noises. Betty X joined the band to sing backing vocals on “Perfect Storm” and “Fairly Unbalanced” – though it could have one or both of either of the two, I honestly can’t remember. I was an armful of beers deep at this point. But, her voice complimented Jourgensen’s distorted wails perfectly. After playing the first half of 2013’s From Beer to Eternity, Al asks the fans to take a moment to pay tribute to Mike Scaccia and he pours a little beer/wine/not-really-sure-what out and the crowd responds in kind.
The band then tears into songs from the Bush Trilogy (Rio Grande Blood, Houses of the Mole, and The Last Sucker). Not necessarily my favorite era of the band, but I would be lying if I said that these songs didn’t rock my ass off. Cesar Soto and Sin Quirin admirably nailed their respective turns at Mike Scaccia’s solos and leads. Soto also provided backing vocals on a number of songs. Drummer Aaron Rossi metronomically pummeled the backbeat in perfect time with bassist Tony Campos.
Following the Bush Trilogy set, a guitar tech comes out and gives Al a guitar and they kick in to the oldie-but-goodies. Playing lead on “N.W.O.” and an damn good solo on “Just One Fix,” 56-year-old Al still seemed quite energized an hour into the set. The biggest reaction from the crowd came with the classic 89 track “Thieves.” As kind of an opinionated and cranky long-time fan, this has become – for me – one of the more tired songs in Ministry catalog. Has there been a concert in 20+ years that they haven’t played this song? But, without a doubt, they killed it. The crowd was singing, screaming, pogo-ing, moshing, genuinely losing their shit. And I was loving every minute. “So What?,” a six minute long song seemed to fly by in a ruthless instant and despite his claims to hate playing live and feeling like a jukebox, Jourgensen seemed into it to me. The final refrains of “So What?” blended into to the intro to the show closer “Khyber Pass.” When that song ended, Al took a bow, and the band left the stage as the track “Thanx, but no Thanx” played over the PA.
When the house lights came on, I lingered for a few minutes as the crowd slowly headed for the exits. I wasn’t the only one, several groups of fans remained, tinnitus shocked, shouting at each other in the deafening silence of the emptying venue. A couple of guys I met outside approached me, “Dude, I don’t even like the new shit, but that fucking rawked!” “Yeah, that was awesome,” I said, before another guy in their group rushes up to us, announcing “I got a setlist, I got a setlist!”
If you’re on the fence about the show, I encourage you to go. The band might not play the deep cuts from the 80’s and 90’s, but Uncle Al still knows how to put on a show. The band plays like a well-oiled machine on a mission to remain ringing in your ears for days to come. Subverting expectations and pissing on the mainstream for more than 30 years, Ministry has left their mark on rock’n’roll history. If this is indeed their final tour, don’t be that guy who decided to stay home. You will regret it.
–J. Kevin Lynch
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