PHOENIX — Ministry’s concert at The Van Buren, with support from Corrosion of Conformity and Melvins, has been a long time coming. Originally scheduled for July 29th, 2020 and featuring a completely different lineup (Ministry, KMFDM, and Front Line Assembly), the show was of course forestalled by the pandemic. Various attempts were made to reschedule with varying lineups, including a pre-Halloween show with Helmet and Frontline Assembly last October. Through these fits and starts, the show finally happened this past Tuesday, and it was worth the wait.
Corrosion of Conformity
“How many of you fuckers here in Phoenix like heavy shit?” was how Corrosion of Conformity lead singer Pepper Keenan greeted the crowd, as the band launched into “Bottom Feeder (El Que Come Abajo)” from their 1995 album Wiseblood. Heavy was what was promised, and heavy was what was delivered. Pulling from nearly every album since 1991’s Blind, when the North Carolina band moved away from its earlier thrash/hardcore days with the addition of Louisiana native Keenan, their set covered everything from hits from their biggest selling album, 1994’s Deliverance, to the criminally underrated America’s Volume Dealer (2000).
“Nice pipes, y’all”, Keenan said mid-set in response to the crowd’s fierce sing-along to “Shake Like You”, adding, “Thanks for getting here early. We appreciate that shit. I’ve been home sitting in my garage for two years, and that fucking sucked.” In fact, the band was stepping in to replace the previously scheduled Helmet on the tour. CoC’s blend of hardcore and southern rock had the crowd in a frenzy, with the mosh pit never slowing down.
Closing out their set with the 1-2-3 punch of “Albatross,” “Who’s Got the Fire,” and an extended jam on their biggest hit “Clean My Wounds,” it was an instance where you wish every band on the bill could get a full set of time, as their set didn’t even get a chance to touch on recent albums IX or No Cross No Crown nor dip back into the early thrash records like Eye for an Eye or Animosity. Still though, as the crowd would obviously agree, 45 minutes of Corrosion of Conformity blows away 90 minutes of most bands.
“The Melvins are coming up next to bulldoze you,” Keenan had promised at the end of their set, and bulldoze they did. Opening their set with “The Kicking Machine” from 2008’s Nude with Boots, Buzz Osborne’s guitar stands out in the band’s sound. Osborne himself, whose large shock of white hair and stage outfits that have him resembling the leader of an alien race from a long-lost 1950’s sci-fi cult film, is the perfect visual representation of the band’s sound, as it manages to be at times trippy and psychedelic and then shift into something more heavy and dark.
The rhythm section of drummer Dale Crover, whose drumming is so heavy you half-expect to see him using cinder blocks and not drum sticks, and bass player Steven Shane McDonald, whose own all-white outfit, long hair, and goatee made him look like a 1970’s transcendental meditation guru, fill out the band’s legendary sound.
For those not familiar with the Washington natives, Melvins’ experimental style has led people to compare them to bands as far-ranging as Black Sabbath to Black Flag (frontman Osborne, for the record, cites Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn as his biggest influence), and the band inspired so many other legendary bands from the Pacific Northwest, which is evident from their entire Tuesday-night set, as you can hear what elements of their sound other bands spent their whole careers trying to emulate.
Their set covered all eras of the band, with some nice surprises pulled from their mid-nineties classic albums: 91’s Bullhead (“It’s Shoved” and “Anaconda”), 93’s Houdini (“Hooch” and “Honey Bucket”), 94’s Stoner Witch (“Queen”), and 96’s Stag (“The Bit”). The band was joined by Ministry drummer Roy Mayorga for the two Houdini tracks, playing in perfect tandem with Crover.
This summer, Melvins will be hitting the road again in June and July on their Electric Roach Tour, supported by Helms Alee and Harsh Mellow, stopping in Tucson on June 18th for their only Arizona date.
With a chain-link fence set up across the front of the stage before their set began, Ministry had already set a specific atmosphere for their performance. Just moments before they came out, a visual was cast with the familiar blue and yellow Ukrainian flag and a message reading Ministry Stands With Ukraine across it. While other bands choose songs specific to their sound to walk out to, they elected to further drive home their message of solidarity by entering to the Ukrainian National Anthem.
Each member filed out one by one, with lead Al Jourgensen out last. As the band stood ready to perform, he stalked the stage, moving in front of the fencing like an animal who smelled fresh blood. He clawed at, banged on, and swayed the fence back and forth, all the while the audience in turn lurched forward in response, like an aggressive lion tamer goading the beast into action. With the band’s two-drum assault, this dance moved with the rhythm of each song, like watching a violent wash crash into a rocky promenade and then just as quickly recede back.
It’s hard to fathom that Ministry is approaching the 40th anniversary of their first release (1983’s With Sympathy), as their sound still feels eons ahead of its time. Having recently passed anniversaries for two of their greatest albums, they opened their set with “Breathe” from 1989’s The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste and “The Missing” from The Land of Rape and Honey. Their entire performance was a multimedia experience, as their backdrop featured images and video that thematically connected to each song, like witnessing a live music video. Mid-set, they broke out a trio of songs from Jourgensen’s many side projects, including 1,000 Homo DJ’s cover of Black Sabbath’s “Supernaut” from Sabbath tribute album Nativity in Black and two songs from Pailhead, Jourgensen’s band with Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye.
The band has never shied away from its politics (their 2018 album AmeriKKKant features the track “Antifa,” for instance), and despite being now almost a 30-year-old song, their performance of “NWO” from Ministry’s landmark album ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ (also known as Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed & The Way to Suck Eggs) seems more appropriate for the times than it did upon its initial release, in this era of increasing social and political upheaval and seems to speak even more so to the political tensions in the country in the five years, especially in light of their opening tribute and show of support for the people of Ukraine. They ended the night with an encore of “Alert Level”, “Good Trouble” (both from 2001’s Moral Hygiene), and a blistering cover of Iggy and The Stooges’ “Search and Destroy”.
Ministry alone is an intense, primal, and heavy concert experience, but when you add to it the Melvins and Corrosion of Conformity it enters an entire new realm. Yes, this concert has been two years in the making, but it was two years worth it. After all, after such a wait, we were all ready for some heavy shit.
Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Ministry, Melvins, & Corrosion of Conformity – The Van Buren 4-12-22
Ministry Setlist – Phoenix, AZ 4-12-22
- The Missing
- Supernaut (Black Sabbath cover)
- Don’t Stand in Line (Pailhead cover)
- Man Should Surrender (Pailhead cover)
- Burning Inside
- Just One Fix
- So What
- Alert Level
- Good Trouble
- Search and Destroy (Iggy and The Stooges cover)
Photography © Reagle Photography
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