By Vincent Michael Festa 

I’ve heard many stories of how Ministry concerts were a health hazard. So I assumed the risk when I bought my tickets as soon as they announced their dates for their farewell tour, the C-U-LaTour. I just didn’t know how dangerous it would be.

At Irving Plaza, many seasoned metalheads and industrialists gathered around for Al Jourgensen’s last hurrah. His Ministry project has been around since 1981 and just like the Bush Administration, he’s on his way out, but not before Ministry completes its anti-Bush trifecta: “Houses Of The Mole,” “Rio Grande Blood,” and “The Last Sucker.”  It’s only fitting that Ministry goes out with a bang, and the show-goers give their all in killing each other.

The floor space was small and some of the fans were hanging out on the balcony observing the show down below. Above us, a balloon fell from the ceiling. Balloons? This is a Ministry concert. I was expecting oil drums, motorcycles, and a blazing inferno. But look above: the black and white balloons were to be dropped from above later on in the night.  I suppose the 500th entrant to the show wins something?

It wasn’t long before we were treated to Hemlock, the show opener. Hailing from Las Vegas, they’ve been on the metal map for fifteen years and touring extensively, sometimes nine months out of the year. Lead singer Chad Smith lived up to the band name pulling his own dreads and beard in madness as Hemlock went with ferocious high-speed. Smith finally got the crowd going midway through their set by getting a circle pit going and giving the New York crowd much love.

And then came Swedish death-metal outfit, Meshuggah: Jesus Christ on a giant cross. Meshuggah came, saw, and turned the entire place into absolute hysterics. For those who are looking to be converted, go see Meshuggah. Here’s a band that is dead serious on the stage. Totally mesmerizing, hypnotic, and captivating. No fun and games, no smiles. All business.

The Meshuggah sound was almost continuous with one suspenseful fright after another. At one time, all three guitarists (Fredrik Thordendal, Mårten Hagström, and Dick Lövgren) shook their heads in unison as they rocked out in stretched out, complicated grooves, intricate rhythm patterns and eight string guitars while drummer Tomas Haake pummeled the shit out of drums, and lead vocalist Jens Kidman just stood there facing the now-vicious crowd, totally unafraid, as if to see what they all had done. Total bedlam.

Two guys were pulling each others’ hair as they recited the lyrics.  Someone knocked several people down to the floor.  The combination of so many fists flying with the forward surging crush of fans and crowd surfing begs the question, where the fuck was animal control when all of this happened?

After we were almost left for dead by Meshuggah, we tried to recover…oh, what is this? The Ministry road crew is bringing a part of a chain link fence onto the stage. And another, and another! You guessed it. For those who know, during Ministry’s 1989-90 tour (and on their first live release, “In Case you Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up”) they had the same setup.  Word was that they were going to bring it back for the final tour.

It wasn’t long before Ministry completed the job. Out came Al Jourgensen and his band mates and we were ready to go. Crazy Al was his classic self with his top hat, black coat, and signature Lennon glasses. His sense of humor had him mimicking the spoken word samples as to act that he knew better.

Opening up the set was “Let’s Go”, and as Uncle Al would sing, “Let’s go for total insanity!” Yes, as if we didn’t get there when Meshuggah went up on stage. I got kicked in the head by a crowd surfer and punched in the back and the nose by a drunken mosher. Now, I almost got crushed to death.  I had elbows jammed into me and I had some belligerent Neanderthal cursing me out in my face. God, how much I love these shows!

Ministry never let up and were absolutely relentless. They played most of the set-list from their aforementioned trifecta as well as their hits “Thieves,” “N.W.O.,” “Just One Fix,” and fan favorite, “So What?” for the first encore with Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory taking over vocal duties. For the second encore, they played covers from Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones to promote the release of “Cover Up.” That’s when the balloons came down.

By the time you read this, Ministry’s very last tour and legacy is history. Pioneering industrial rock in the Wax Trax days, working with Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy, and making history with 1988’s “The Land Of Rape And Honey,” Ministry will continue to be written in the history books.  Many more fans will continue to recover from the hurt of being at the Hemlock/Meshuggah/Ministry show. I should know, my ears are still ringing.