Friday Night: Ministry, with Meshuggah and Hemlock, at Verizon Wireless Theater

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Ministry, with Meshuggah and Hemlock Friday, April 18 Verizon Wireless Theater

Better Than: Moping at home because you’re the sort of atavistic dork who heard that they band wasn’t going to play “Jesus Built My Hotrod” or “Stigmata”

Download: With Sympathy

Openers Hemlock played for a very fun 27 minutes before retiring to their merch table (I’m told frontman/bassist Chad Smith was in the pit for the entirety of Ministry’s set and, though I didn’t see if myself, it sounds realistic). The Sin City trio has been touring for 15 years, and only recently have they had any kind of tangible label support. They’d probably have torn the roof off Meridian; in this case, they had a good time without burning anything into the audience’s memory. I’d rather have seen them headlining a smaller venue.

All of the people lurking in the lobby during Hemlock rushed the main room when Meshuggah hit the stage. The band came out swinging, playing a decent cross-section of material from their latest album obZen. I’m criminally unfamiliar with Meshuggah, but I can say their set was like being tied down and sandblasted for 45 minutes. The musicianship is stunning, the precision disorienting, and for all that’s made of Tomas Haake’s masterful drumming, I never seem to hear anyone gush about Dick Lovgren’s bass playing, which sounds a lot like a. dirt-covered brick crashing through a succession of windows. His tones are downright evil.

Al Jourgensen notwithstanding, the “veteran” of Ministry’s current touring line-up is guitarist and Prong frontman Tommy Victor, who came aboard in 2005. Paul Barker – the Keith to Al’s Mick, and Ministry mainstay since the Twitch tour in 1985 – left the band four years ago, and the current line-up is fairly Prong-centric, with John Bechdel on keys, Aaron Rossi on the skins and Prong frontman Tommy Victor on guitar, the two exceptions being Static-X bassist Tony Campos and RevCo axe-man Sin Quirin.

Ministry ripped through a set of tracks from their last three albums, including the battering-ram of “Let’s Go,” Cheney send-up “The Dick Song,” anti-Patriot Act anthem “Watch Yourself,” “The Last Sucker,” “Lies Lies Lies” and “Khyber Pass,” with Jourgensen referring to Houses of the Molé tracks as “old songs.” While they played, an array of stock footage played on the backdrop, a display of visual paranoia that included CNN broadcasts, footage of both 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing, Hugo Chavez, and pre-recorded video of the band itself.

Immediately following “Lies Lies Lies,” Billy Gibbons wandered out of stage left and embraced Jourgensen – who was grinning shamelessly. “This is . . . it,” Gibbons said before leaving the stage with a wave. “That was the king of Texas,” said Jourgensen. “I know we’ve got a Governor and all that, but he’s the king.”

At the conclusion of the set, the crowd sort of stood there, plenty of goading, obligatory screaming for an encore, etc. Lo and behold, the band came back. But we got four songs: “No Way,” the classics “N.W.O.” and “Just One Fix,” with the shit-kicking live-staple “Thieves” as the closer. The final three songs – the only “vintage” pieces in the show – were sung by Burton Bell from Fear Factory, who quite frankly brought a new , primal sort of energy to the show. Jourgensen, meanwhile, took up a guitar and went to Sin Quirin’s side of the stage to rock out and handle some backup vocals.

Then the band left the stage and came back for encore number two, which consisted of three tracks from the new Cover-Up album: “Roadhouse Blues,” (also featured on “The Last Sucker”), ZZ Top’s “Just Got Paid,” (dedicated to the King of Texas, naturally) and a surprisingly affecting version of “Under My Thumb.” Then, Al Journgensen and the beast that is and has been Ministry lumbered off-stage and into the shadows for what is (ostensibly) the last time.

Personal Bias: Ministry was one of the handful of bands that showed the adolescent me an alternative to rock radio in the Oklahoma City metro area, programming once dubbed “T-top enabled mullet rock” by the Oklahoma Gazette. I own every Ministry studio release on CD (including Uncle Al’s numerous side projects) and most on vinyl. Everything is backed-up digitally, in case of fire, raid or financial desperation. Never trust a junkie.

Random Detail: Billy Gibbons was sitting in the upper-deck at stage left and seemed to enjoy himself far more during “Just One Fix” than during the cover of his own band’s song. I’m not trying to make some sort of statement with that, I’m just sayin’.

By the Way: This was one of the penultimate damned-if-you-do situations for a band: People with nothing better to do will spend a lot of time arguing about whether or not it was a rip-off to have the old favorites withheld or whether it was in-line with Ministry’s style for the band to go out pimping its latest/final project. While the entire proper-set did not feature a single song that appeared anytime before 2004, the fact of the matter is that – save for the rocky “Rio Grande Blood” – Ministry has released some damn fine music lately. It hasn’t been knock-offs of what they became known for, the electro-metal that helped propel Nine Inch Nails and their contemporaries into the mainstream. It may have taken an entire career, but Ministry transcended industrial metal (I’d say “gracefully” were it not for Filth Pig and the era to which it belongs) and finished their career as something closer to a pure metal band. Would I have been angry, upset or even disappointed if they’d played more of their “hits”? Not at all. But there’s something that seems dignified about a band like Ministry conducting their final tour in a way that emphasizes the present instead of reaching for nostalgia. Say what you want about Jourgensen, the “Ministry project,” the line-up changes or whatever: the band has never spent much time looking backward. More power to them. – Chris Henderson

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