When a shirtless dude with wide pupils abruptly played leapfrog on the shoulders of an unsuspecting bystander, I knew Al Jourgensen had to be pleased. Sure enough, as the intense metal icon pointed and paced to emphasize his powerful intonation, he seemed to relish all the pious chaos happening in the pit below. He frequently wore an amused half-smile and made eye contact with seemingly every soul from behind Ministry’s chain-link fences and nail-emblazoned neon cross. Their NJ following had clearly rolled into Montclair ready for some heavy metal worship. It was a split between stylish metal chicks, freaked-out acid-voyagers, DIY-denim teens with multicolored mohawks, and older arms-crossed dudes who seemed proud of the next gen for forming a moshy whirlpool. The Wellmont Theater was pretty packed, but the all-GA configuration was still spacious enough that each fan had ample room to thrash and throw their bodies like punches. This triple threat of a lineup – with Corrosion of Conformity and Melvins kickstarting the show before Ministry – was the best way to escape the icy wind and snow.
Corrosion of Conformity, the Raleigh, NC heavy metal band (formed in 1982), brought a frenetic and fun performance to Montclair. A good chunk of the audience had come out just for them and made themselves heard, singing along and dancing hard to Woody Weatherman’s grinding riffs. “TALK to me, JERSEY,” COC’s Pepper Keenan shouted with a contagious grin. “Long time no see, my friends.” Dipping into five albums from their wide discography, COC’s sonically tight eight-song set matched the order of their recent dates. Even so, Keenan gave NJ fans a chance to switch it up. “Let me ask you COC guys. You wanna hear something you know, or something that we don’t play very often?” The ensuing racket selected the road more traveled as COC’s top-streamed hit, “Clean My Wounds” became their lively finale. “We love you guys – always have,” said Keenan. “Thank you, New Jersey.”
It’s such a great vibe when all the bands on the lineup coax out a massive response. Like those who had trekked out just for COC, there was a whole group of fans there just for Melvins too, as one could gauge from taking a tee shirt census. Making two old sitcoms more hardcore than ever, the band walked out to the Sanford and Son theme song and projected a dreamy photo of Agnes Moorehead as Endora on Bewitched for the full set. Like science-project potatoes conducting an electric current, the audience started moving hard for Melvins, jumping around with satisfied expressions to Dale Crover’s slick drumming. Iconic grunge-sludge frontman Buzz Osborne, who looked regal in his shiny green eyeball cape, attained a level of vocal ferocity and technical shredding that was addictive to watch. Their twelve-song set spanned eight of their many albums, as well as a cool cover of “Charlie” by Redd Kross. Beastly set closers “Hooch,” “Honey Bucket,” and “The Bit” whipped up headliner-level cheering for the legends’ tight and vicious set.
To sincere applause, the screen switched to blue and yellow as the headliners projected the words, “Minstry stands with Ukraine” over the flag, turning up the Ukrainian national anthem before they took the stage. Their touring lineup right now, surrounding frontman Al Jourgensen, includes founding Tool bassist Paul D’Amour, the seasoned Monte Pittman (Madonna’s guitarist, etc.), guitarist Cesar Soto, John Bechdel on keys/programming, and Roy Mayorga on drums. Even my fuzzy pocket bootleg of Ministry digging into “Breathe,” “The Missing,” and “Deity” makes me auto-headbang like the Wellmont’s elbow-battered mosh-jacuzzi did. The industrial metal legends from Chicago, Illinois (founded in 1981) hit hard with fifteen bangers that sounded sharp as knives. While the setlist order has been static on their aggressively busy tour, it seemed like NJ got a uniquely personality-packed show. Al Jourgensen paused after “Stigmata” to recall warmly, “Well, we recorded a lot of shit during that year we did The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste . We just kept recording, and recording, and some of the other stuff that came out was pretty good too. And this one was from a side band we did called 1000 Homo DJs, and it’s a Black Sabbath song, and it’s called ‘SUPERNAUT,’” he yelled, stirring up lots of screaming. Hitting on another Jourgensen side project, Ministry blessed Montclair with thunderous cuts of Pailhead’s “Don’t Stand in Line,” and “Man Should Surrender.”
The subsequent “Burning Inside” induced a whole layer of shouted participation. A hypnotic “N.W.O.” was synced with the glitching worldwide flags that made up their background. And time slipped away too quickly as Ministry hammered out “Just One Fix,” “Thieves,” and “So What,” causing tons of crowd action and big demands for their return. As if rewarding fans’ loving barbarity, the chain-link fences came down before the band came back out. Ministry gave NJ’s soul and eardrums a final embrace with their bone-rattling encore of “Alert Level” and “Good Trouble,” topped off with their gooey-heavy take on “Search and Destroy” by Iggy and The Stooges. In addition to the fast-flashing graphics projected behind them, a mid-set surprise – from the fans, not the band – became a funny visual highlight during Ministry’s set. People may think that metal shows are filled with sketchy figures handing out drugs. This one was actually filled with sneaky figures handing out inflatables. Some cool group had brought in bags full of yellow happy face balloons, rapidly passing them out and airing them up. Even after two pandemic years, those who received one instantly accepted the unspoken invitation to contribute some oxygen while Ministry raged. The Wellmont was suddenly so laden with lemon-colored balloons, the band was smacking them away with their headstocks and wearing matching smiley expressions. While that may not seem like their style, Ministry’s post-show tweet even thanked Montclair for “the mosh pit and balloons!” Until each one met its noisy demise and popped in the pit, Ministry’s fans in NJ got to share a rare moment: surprising an idolized band who have surprised us all in killer ways over the years.
Article & phone pics: Olivia Isenhart