(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Concert review - Ministry with Blackburner and Overcasters

It's always curious to see the strange mixes that come together for touring (e.g. B-52s opening for the Who). Evidently, Ministry decided that their new DefibrillaTour needed dubstep electronica duo Blackburner to properly prepare the audience. Like many in the crowd, I'm not sure that was the best pairing, but it did make for an interesting show.

I caught Overcasters when they opened for Sleepy Sun back in March. At that show, the drumming was amazing, but their lead guitar player overpowered the mix. Given that their web page had some great tracks, I was glad to get another chance to hear them.

This time, the mix was much better, delivering a Bauhaus swirl of doom. Thick walls of heartbeat bass and pounding drums sported a rich coat of feedback howl. Kurt Ottaway's echo-filled vocals presided over the top like a funerary rite.

Acid trails of guitar distortion were balanced by Joy Division bass drone to hit the sweet spot that Overcasters missed at the Sleepy Sun show. John Nichols proved that he could still summon the moans and shards of noise out of his lead guitar without denying the rest of the band.

The mix was more controlled, but Overcasters' stage presence still had a dynamic sense of abandon. Drummer Erin Tidwell would raise a stick in warning for the tom-punch to come. Ottaway crouched in on his guitar as if to shield it from the onlaught, only turn the hollow body into the amp to build the feedback higher.

The Ministry crowd might have wanted more shred or more metal grind, but they still respected Overcasters' satisfying guitar growl and solid drumming.

And now for something completely different. Blackburner's heavy dubstep style electronic jams had a lot of people shaking their heads. The bass heavy grind and dark spectacle formed a minor connection with Ministry, but that wasn't really common ground.

On their own merits, they had some good songs. The duo did some minor mixing on the fly, but they largely relied on preset tracks that they could shout over and tie in with the light show. They favored a hard edge dubstep mixed with rock samples and screeching techstep bleeps. Both Skyla Talon and K Kyle occasionally sported guitars, but it was hard to find anything guitar-like in the grinding sound of the mix.

Visually, it was a stunning show. The duo wore giant nightmare rabbit masks with light up eyes (and ears). Their fog machines ran through a limitless supply of fog fluid. While it was sometimes hard to actually see the stage, this formed a fine canvas the bright lights and lasers. With go-go dancers, shiny chaff balloons, and free tee shirt tosses, Blackburner didn't miss many gimmicks.

If it had been a Bassnectar show, this would have been crazy fun, but in this context, Blackburner were laughably excessive. It's funny how the wrong context can shift impressions.

Ministry kicked off the show with Ghouldiggers from their new album Relapse. The high energy punch kicked the audience in the gut as Al Jourgensen proved the refrain, "I'm not dead yet/No, no, no". The buzz saw bass lines, screaming vocals, and shredding guitars showed that Ministry could still summon their classic sound with their new material. They'd go on to play a number of other new tracks like 99 Percenters, but they also disinterred enough of their back catalog to satisfy the crowd, hitting tracks like N.W.O., Thieves, Just One Fix, and Senor Peligro.

Standing center stage, flanked by guitars, Jourgensen played ringmaster. He directed the mosh pit like an orchestra, encouraging the thrash to begin with each new song. He took in the audience's adoration and enthusiasm and reflected it back to the crowd with a bemused smile. Then he'd sneer and growl the next set of lyrics as he clung to the mic. The latest incarnation of Jourgensen's mic stand (by Kevin Largent) was appropriately flashy, adding to the band's stage show.

Ministry's sound was loud as hell, but the guitars stayed distinct. Mike Scaccia's playing was tight as he casually tore through the setlist. Sin Quirin took his share of leads and he made the effort to connect with the fans in the balcony. The two axemen nailed the speedy sweep of chunky rhythms and screaming leads.

Of course, much of the band's dark tone comes from bottom end rhythm section. Casey Orr's bass rumbled like heavy machinery as Aaron Rossi's relentless double kick drumwork propelled the songs forward.

The true gauge of Ministry's power was in the audience response. Bodies slamming, heads banging -- the crowd was very physical, with everybody feeling the thrashy energy and reacting.

The only off note was Jourgensen's distracted behavior. Supposedly clean now, Uncle Al seemed a bit befuddled at times. Between songs, he dropped back to the amp line to check the song cues from a big binder. Several times, it was clear that the songs included a prerecorded vocal track that Jourgensen added to. It wasn't lip synched, but when he was slow to hit the mic, it was pretty obvious. The worst moments were when he strapped on a guitar, almost as a prop -- he seemed confused about what he should do with it.

The band's energy and Jourgensen's charisma brushed the weaker moments aside, though. The crowd poured out into the street pumped with the after-show buzz.

More photos on my Flickr.

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