Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”
On this date in history, 3/5/22, The Industrial Strength Tour utterly destroyed the Madison Theater in Covington, KY. Ministry, Melvins, and Corrosion Of Conformity were the featured bands on this monumentally entertaining showcase of musical muscle.
Of course the Madison wasn’t literally destroyed, which is good, because it is a fine venue for displays of vulgar power. Not to mention the fact that we (the wife and I) are going back in May to witness The Bay Strikes Back tour (but that’s another story for another time). I wanted to say a few words about the Madison Theater, because it has a different physical layout than most rock palaces. This one is set up in tiers, with three separate sections on ground level, complemented by a nice balcony set back and above, providing for a pretty wide array of viewing options. We chose to be down in front, which proved to be a wise choice (it generally works out that way!) when Ministry hit the stage. More about that in a minute… I want to start at the beginning for this show.
It had been 27 years since I last saw Corrosion Of Conformity, and I was pleasantly surprised that they were equal to, if not better, than they were back in the middle of the grunge era. Original drummer Reed Mullin passed away in early 2020, but John Green (a former roadie for the band) proved to be an able replacement. The front line of Pepper Keenan (lead vocals, guitar), Woody Weatherman (guitar), and Mike Dean (bass, vocals) were a force of down-tuned ferocity, creating a swampy groove that was like a tidal wave moving in menacing slow motion. I love the way they started their set. Dean appeared from behind his amplifier, seemingly to check his bass tone, but quickly set up a repeating pattern that mutated into a serious chromosome rearranging wall of low frequency feedback. Green walked casually to his drum kit and set up a beat as Dean resumed the pattern, and then the guitarists arrived and added their sonic fury to the proceedings. Once established, COC were an unstoppable juggernaut of crushing force. Although their set only contained seven songs, the Southern sludge lords set the stage for all that followed. Paranoid Opioid, Vote With A Bullet, Albatross, and Clean My Wounds were my personal favorites, but trust me when I say there wasn’t a moment of weakness in this entire concert.
Up next were (the) Melvins, who I had last seen in 2009. At that show they had two drummers, but on this most incredible night they performed as a trio (a POWER) trio, comprised of Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne (lead vocals/guitar), Steven Shane McDonald (bass/vocals), and Dale Crover (drums/vocals). Something I always remembered about Melvins was the way their entire set was uninterrupted by any breaks the first time I saw them. Admittedly, I don’t know their material all that well, but it seemed to me that they played one incredibly enjoyable song that went through a myriad of changes and lasted an entire hour. However, this time it was easier to tell what was going on. King Buzzo and McDonald would finish a song and turn around to tune their instruments, but Crover never stopped playing. Instead, the apparently indefatigable drummer would play a mini-drum solo or simply set up a new rhythm bed for the next song. As a drum fanatic, I was fascinated with the man’s stamina (and chops…a literal boatload of chops) as this fantastic live band blasted through an immensely impressive set that included Anaconda, Queen, Charlie (Red Kross cover), Billy Fish, Evil New War God, Hooch, and Honey Bucket.
In addition to their prodigious musical skills, Melvins are a lot of fun visually. King Buzzo has this amazing mop of white hair (which was made for head-banging, which he did…a lot), and was dressed in something that was sort of like a modern wizard robe. McDonald’s clothes were similarly flamboyant and his tall stature and amusing facial expressions made for some interesting viewing. Crover was marvelous simply by his combustible energy. Speaking of energy, the buildup of anticipatory adrenaline began as soon as roadies brought out the infamous chain link fence that was set up in front of Ministry’s impressive stage set up. This was, to my knowledge, the first time that “the fence” had been utilized since the early ’90’s. Al Jourgenson’s band of industrial metal titans have had an ever-changing lineup since their formation in 1981. The 2022 lineup includes former Tool bassist Paul D’Amour, drummer Roy Mayorga, keyboardist John Bechdel, guitarists Monty Pittman and Cesar Soto, and Uncle Al on lead vocals, occasional guitar, and orchestrator of chaos.
I don’t think I can adequately describe how important Ministry is to me, but I shall try. I originally saw them at the top of their success during the second year of the now iconic Lollapalooza tour. On that date in 1992 Ministry appeared in the middle of the afternoon with no light show and still managed to be the most powerful, scary, and dangerous band I had seen up to that time. Fast forward to 2019 and an opening slot on Slayer’s farewell run of shows where I was delighted to finally see Uncle Al’s creation with a properly blinding light show. Trouble was, we were so far back that lights were all we were able to see. No complaints, because the sound and those crazy strobing patterns were incredible. All that aside, on this magical night, my lovely wife and I were poised to see Ministry at the height of their glorious power. Ground zero at a proper Ministry performance is not for the weak. It is a demonstation of sensory overload at its absolute zenith. The light show is potent enough to cause seizures in a very literal sense…the music in all its industrial metal glory is crushingly loud; battalions of martial drums, sublimely lethal bass tones, anarchic stabs of keyboards filling any sonic space that isn’t otherwise occupied, and thick waves of pulverizing guitars, all topped by Al Jourgensen’s unmistakable raging voice.
Uncle Al has perfected a production style that uses massive delay on his vocals, so that when he holds out a note or a scream, that sound is bionically enhanced and sometimes warped into unearthly noises not possible to produce by human beings. Additionally, Al Jourgensen is possessed of an extraordinary stage presence. He doesn’t move fast and he doesn’t necessarily do anything overly theatrical, but he is a magnetic presence, and it is nearly impossible to take one’s eyes off him for long. His mannerisms and subtle facial expressions ultimately enhanced this performance for me, being the first time I could properly see him up close.
Ministry hit the stage with a handful of classics (the concert was advertised as a celebration of their 1989 release “The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste” and their current album “Moral Hygiene”). Opening with Breathe, then directly into The Missing, Deity, and Stigmata, Ministry had established dominance from the beginning. They went on to drop a trio of covers (Supernaut by Black Sabbath) and a pair of songs by Pailhead (one of Jourgensen’s myriad side projects), Don’t Stand In Line and Man Should Surrender. These covers were perfectly placed, and added a blast of excitement to an already superb set list. Next up were some of the “Best Of” Ministry fan favorites; Burning Inside, N.W.O., Just One Fix, Thieves, and final song So What. Following a short break in the action, Ministry returned with three songs from Moral Hygiene (a most excellent album). First up was Alert Level, followed by Good Trouble, and finally ending this ultimately satisfying show with Search And Destroy (by the infamous Iggy & The Stooges).
In true Ministry fashion, they did an incredible job of remolding all the covers into their own utterly unique style. I have seen far too many concerts in my lifetime to legitimately rate them, but when a show is this good it tends to stand out. The Industrial Strength Tour was first class in every sense of the word. I jokingly said that Ministry, Melvins, and Corrosion Of Conformity should just exclusively tour together from now on. Come to think about it, maybe I wasn’t really joking!