Ministry - Live in Grand Rapids (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


Live in Grand Rapids (2015)

live show

Ministry was one of the greatest live bands of the 90's. I vividly recall seeing them for the first time as a teen in 1990. They had only recently abandoned their early synth-pop roots with two genre defining industrial metal albums, The Land of Rape and Honey and The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste.They played behind a chicken wire fence to keep from getting pelted with whatever debris the crowd could get ahold of. It was a little scary and completely exhilarating. The next time I saw Ministry was at Lollapalooza '92. They were playing second to last on the main stage and stealing the show every night. They were touring behind their biggest album, Psalm 69, and were at their commercial peak. When they took the stage, people started throwing chunks of sod. Sometimes the sky was almost black from all the flying dirt. The band always seemed to have an extra element of danger, and it was awesome.

The quality of Ministry's records started to decline in the later 90's. Filth Pig and Dark Side of the Spoon were just OK, but the quality of the live shows remained high. Mastermind Al Jourgensen kept pushing toward making the group an organic thrash metal band, minimizing the electronic elements. The election of George W Bush in 2000 seemed to breathe new life into the band and they made an excellent trilogy of albums raging against his presidency. Houses of the Mole, Rio Grande Blood and The Last Sucker proved the band to be relevant once again. Although Uncle Al had disbanded Ministry a few times previously, I was foolish enough to believe that the 2008 break-up was for real. The most recent come-back was a gradual one. First an album and some festival dates, with a vow not to tour. Then another album with a full club tour.

I hadn't seen Ministry since 2004, and I greeted their return to Grand Rapids at The Intersection on May 31st, with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. My first reaction was sticker shock at the price of tickets. They were $45 without fees. My lawn seats for Lollapalooza '92 were about $30. That show featured Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Ice Cube, Soundgarden, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Pearl Jam and Lush. Inflation, I guess. Anyway, I willingly paid and hoped that the TBA opening act would be good. Well, it wasn't. There was an unbilled band that we missed, and the recently announced Hemlock. Hemlock has been around since 1993, and their sound never left the 90's. They were nu-metal with death metal vocals. The singer/bassist couldn't stop playing with/acting out songs with his dreadlocks. He also kept encouraging the audience to "jump, jump, jump". They were pretty bad, but didn't take themselves too seriously and were hard to hate.

The Ministry stage set included a skeleton mic stand/pulpit and a large video screen, which is unusual for a club show. It was obvious from the outset that the band had spent some money on production values. Uncle Al took the stage in a gas mask, while the guitar players had their faces covered like jihadists. The video screens played constantly changing images. It felt like a propaganda film, but in a good way. The first hour of the set was largely political, and devoted almost entirely to material released after 2000. The band's targets included Bush, Obama, war, religion and Fox News. The band sounded great, loud and clear. The current line-up consists of two guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, and of course, Mr. Jourgensen as ringmaster. Al got hit right in the forehead with a beer can during the first song, and ranted and raved about it for most of the night.

There was a pretty good crowd for a Sunday night, and it skewed older. A large portion of the audience was in their 40's, with a few second generation fans along for the ride. A small but significant minority was playing 80's goth dress-up night, and it made for good people watching. The last four songs of the regular set really sent the crowd into a frenzy. They played "N.W.O.", "Just One Fix", "Thieves" and "So What" to roars of approval. I even drug my 40 year old ass into the pit for the first time in years for "So What". These songs spoke to us then and still speak to us now. Ministry came back for an extended jam as an encore. The band members left the stage one by one until the house light came up.

Overall, Ministry put on a very good show. It was 95 minutes without a dull moment. The biggest complaint I heard was about the lack of classic material. There was nothing from The Land of Rape and Honey (no "Stigmata") , and only four vintage "hits". The good news is that Ministry has not become a dreaded nostalgia act. They may not be one of the greatest live acts of the 2010's, but their message is still a powerful one, even after more than 30 years.