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Greasy and pissed: Ministry’s Al Jourgensen at Saratoga Winners.

photo by: Chris Shields

Flashback
By Ann Morrow

Ministry, Hanzel und Gretyl
Saratoga Winners, Nov. 27

When the lights went down for Ministry, the first person on stage was . . . President Bush. Actually, it was someone in a Dubya costume, who waved to the audience like a happy idiot before he was pummeled to the ground by Al Jourgensen. Set to the soaring overture of Carmina Burana, the comic entrance was part of “No W,” from Ministry’s latest release, Houses of the Molé. “It’s not over yet!” threatened Jourgensen on the topic of Bush’s reelection. He might just as well have been referring to Ministry, the industrial colossus who dominated DJ playlists from the early-’80s to the mid-’90s. Considered to have washed up years ago, Ministry (whose core lineup is now down to just Jourgensen, following the departure of bassist-programmer Paul Barker) seem to be in the midst of a comeback, with an inspired new album, a sort-of-new agenda (anti-Bush, the next generation) and a tour stop at Saratoga Winners marked by a very respectable turnout.

Having finally kicked his infamous heroin habit, Jourgensen was energetic and audience-friendly, dressed, as usual, like a Texan biker, with the addition of black football-player smudges under his eyes (to hide the baggage?) and what looked, from a distance, to be metal caps on his teeth (junkievitis?) His touring band—a bunch of guys he didn’t introduce, although it’s a good guess that the lead guitarist was Molé ’s Mike Scaccia—were similarly greasy-haired and turbocharged. The first half of the set was composed of political rants from Molé, with a seriously corrosive “Worthless” being the standout. It was also about the only song with discernable lyrics, since all the new songs are hyperspeed thrashers heavily riddled with piercing guitar leads and run-amok sampling. A half-dozen or so in, the set became a blur of skronky aggression that was impressively executed but noticeably devoid of the demented go-go beats and other rhythmic oddities that make Ministry’s back catalogue such a blast.

Matching the misanthropic tone of the new songs, a backing video screen poured out molten imagery, from goose-stepping Nazi troops to rushes of Bush looking characteristically not-all-there. But more interesting visuals were the animal-bone crosses that served as mic stands (with Jourgensen leaning on his as if it were the handlebars on a bike). Midway through, he asked—rhetorically—if anyone remembered “the old stuff.” The crowd, whose age ranged from 15 to 50, responded with jubilant enthusiasm to the catchy cataclysms of dance-industrial classics from 1988’s industrial landmark, Land of Rape and Honey, and 1992’s platinum breakthrough, Psalm 69. Among the “greatest fits” were “Flashback,” “Just One Fix,” “So What,” and “Deity.” Jourgensen dedicated Ministry’s MTV hit “N.W.O.” to “The father of the present cocksucker in office.” He also threw in a club hit from one of his side projects, 1000 Homo DJs’ electromagnetic cover of Black Sabbath’s “Supernaut,” that left more than a few audience members melting with Wax Trax nostalgia.

During the second half (and probably the first, too, but it was hard to tell), Jourgensen lip-synched to backing tapes, belting out only the key phrases in his pioneering gargled-with-battery-acid vocals. But since his songs have always relied on looping and distortion, it wasn’t really a cheat—although the mimed guitar playing was pushing it. And since Ministry’s area debut—as part of the first Lollapalooza at SPAC—was basically one long audio meltdown, the solid coherence of Saturday’s appearance was appreciated. And appreciated to the point where the crowd demanded, and received, two encores, the first being the irresistibly gonzo (still) “Jesus Built My Hotrod.”

Ministry are one of the very few industrial acts who didn’t play at the old QE2, Albany’s very own industrial launch pad. But Hanzel und Gretyl did, and after several years off the radar, they’re back, apparently, and as wickedly glammy as ever. The Germanic New Yorkers got a surprisingly warm reception considering that they were filling in for the greatly anticipated My Life With the Thrill Kill Cult, who canceled last month. But H & G proved to be a worthy substitution. With two front persons of indeterminate gender and long, Technicolored hair, the band unleashed a set of high-drama Kraut rock marked by screeching guitars, shrieking vocals, and satirical lyrics.

 

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