Neon vintage TV sets, floating skull heads atop custom microphone stands with multiple prongs, and two giant, inflatable swooped-gold-hair presidents with crossed-out swastikas on their bloated bellies flanking the band on either side of the stage — there’s nothing subtle about a Ministry show.
And why would you expect there to be? The experimental industrial metal band has spent more than 30 years, on and off — first formed in 1981 by Cuban-American rocker Al Jourgensen — pushing buttons and taking down authority figures, artfully and loudly, of course. If you go to a Ministry show, you know there will be some anarchistic messaging.
Before Ministry took the stage at the Majestic Ventura Theater this past weekend on the brand-new “AmeriKKKant Tour,” tour-mate and fellow theatrical ghoul Chelsea Wolfe performed a tight 40-minute set.
Wolfe looks like a goth Stevie Nicks, with flowing black hair, expertly witchy moves and undeniable style, right down to the layered black lace dangling from her microphone. She darted up and down, arms out and hands clawed, reaching for her guitar and beautifully howling into the microphone.
Performing tracks off both older albums and the newest full-length record Hiss Spun (released in late 2017 on Sargent House), Wolfe and her band moved seamlessly through slow-burning tracks “Spun” and the slightly bouncy, more energetic “Feral Love” off 2014’s Pain Is Beauty. Through the set, one thing remained steady: Wolfe’s haunting vocals pierce through it all, sometimes barely above a forceful whisper, at other times literally howling into the crowd. Her voice gives you chills, especially live, when it feels as though she’s driving a burning hole directly into your heart. After the set, Wolfe’s band waved goodbye, and then it was time for Ministry.
Giant inflatable Donald Trump-inspired creatures sat on either side of the stage. Huge Ministry rally banners hung behind the band from ceiling to floor. The band wasted no time stating its feelings about the current state of politics and showcasing its newest album, AmeriKKant (2018 on Nuclear Blast), its first new album in five years.
Before Jourgensen, a showman with commanding stage presence, had even emerged, a slowed-down warped and morphed video of Trump repeating “Make American great again” played while the crowd yelled. Jourgensen, wearing a top hat above signature long and dark dreadlocks, furry vest and American flag scarf, busted out the harmonica and the megaphone, launching into tracks off AmeriKKant and 2013’s From Beer to Eternity, including “Twilight Zone” and “Victims of a Clown” with the seven-piece band.
The visuals behind the industrial band were dark, trippy and menacing with pops of silly satire: creepy clowns during “Wargasm”; schoolyards with double-exposed film; grainy, morphing, generally upsetting imagery throughout — but certainly with a strong showing of Trump in the first part of the show (including, notably, during the song “Punch in the Face”). During older songs, images of George W. Bush and Hugo Chavez made appearances on the screen, as did protesters and police brutality.
It can all be a little over-the-top, but with Ministry, that is to be expected. A few showgoers didn’t quite get it. Right after the band performed the song “Antifa,” two confused metalheads near me started shouting “F*ck Antifa” along with some extremely homophobic and upsetting slurs, holding their middle fingers up. They stood alone, however, as the majority of the black-shirt-wearing crowd cheered and shook along to every song, forming a few minor mosh pits up front during faster metal favorites. The band’s clear fights against fake news, Fox and the current administration were cathartic, if a bit too on-the-nose.
In contrast to the two dissenters way back in the venue, Jourgensen, after “Antifa,” implored the crowd to vote this November, saying we must vote to “Show Russia they don’t control our shit, we control our shit!” — which got hollers of approval.
After a pummeling hour-long set, the band retreated briefly then returned for an encore. Jourgensen yelled, “Ventura knows how to party. Who knew?” which riled up the crowd once more, before launching into fast-paced, heavy “Bad Blood” off 1999’s Dark Side of the Spoon — a song you may recognize from The Matrix soundtrack.