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  • Scary Fingers

Former UIC Student, Al Jorgensen of Ministry, chugs Aragon Ballroom into a frenzy

Al Jourgensen of Ministry chugs Aragon Ballroom (or at least me) into a frenzy...Gary Numan's picture of health casts a youthful grace over ballads of heavy angst and synth deliverance.

My sister and I arrived during the opener of the Front Line Assembly, which was, evidently, some 80s industrial band off Wax Trax records. During one song, there was an incredibly creepy 3D animation, and I had to stare at the starlit painted sky on the ceiling or the disco ball and balcony area until the horror passed. After they finished, we went to a drink counter and bumped into the tall bassist of Front Line Assembly with dyed blond braids. My sister said they (the band) were great, and I gave a wordless thumbs up before she ordered a Prickly Pear margarita (which she did not share) and a huge plastic clear shaker with a removable shot glass.

We pushed closer, and although it was getting warm, I left my black trenchcoat on because I figured it'd be more fitting for Gary Numan since he is wearing a trench coat of his own on his 1982 album I Assassin; I stood there clutching the collar trying to contain my excitement of being in his presence. When the lights dimmed and an orange ball of fire lit up on the screen over the stage, the musicians walked out one by one. First, the drummer and the keyboardist, with full heads of hair, then two bald guys with lines drawn down their foreheads and noses who occasionally made cryptic signs with their hands or seemed to make comments straight ahead to the crowd without a mic to amplify them.

Then, a bassist and guitarist in post-apocalyptic gray garments with long skirts, and finally Gary Numan himself, with a full head of dyed black hair, a long gray tee-shirt, one arm wrapped with crisscrossing black cloth to match the bald men, a black bandana tied on his neck, some kind of pantyhose like arm warmers cutaway at the fingers, and leggings with stripes down the inseams and lots of corrugated lines over laced boots. So, with my fishnet arm warmers and eyeliner, I was close enough. They opened with “Everything Comes Down to This,” off his 2013 album Splinter: Songs From a Broken Mind, a heavy banger that set the mood for the rest of the performance.

Throughout the show, Numan danced around the stage, throwing his arms up and tracing the changing cords with his hands, in tune with every volume change. He was a long way from the 1970s when he was said to have a robotic stage presence. While he had his signature black eyeliner, he was far from metallic, having a blast as he danced and dropped to a squat with his arms behind him like Spider-Man on a high steeple every time the music dropped. I could only hope that at his age, I could be so healthy and athletic. There were several songs where the music ceased entirely before Numan jumped up to dance more and deliver more ballads.

My sister was enjoying herself dancing around, a crazy concept as she showed zero interest in listening to anything of his before the concert. I gasped as I recognized “Metal” and whipped out my phone to sing along my favorite lines, “singing ‘I am an American,’ do you?” etc.

Most of the tracks were more recent, from his industrial period in the 2000s to the newest album, Intruder. It was an artistic performance, with conceptual images onscreen behind the stage and glowing vertical thin cylindrical lights which changed colors with the mood of the music and the bald guys getting personal with their hands, one guy sucking on the other guy’s neck for a moment while Numan squatted behind the keyboard to take a water break during a solo. When the cylinders turned pink, I suspected he might pull another old one, and I started jumping, feeling psychic, when “Cars” landed through the speakers with a colossal impact. As it turns out, it’s difficult to dance in a crowd.

Numan got down on the keyboard himself during the outro of transcendent synth. As the setlist progressed, so did the sweat-patterns on Numan’s gray shirt from a skull to a heart to a blob and as we perspired I wished that I had some Gary Numan water myself. Numan never spoke to the crowd (a private joke or two to the guitarist between songs), but when he backed away from the mic and I lip-read “Thank you!” on his smiling face. Ahhh! It made me smile to see Numan having so much fun, doing interpretive dance in his own world. I thought the only way to have more fun during his show would be to be Gary Numan himself.

When the lights dimmed for Ministry, the gray M was designed as a doubled anarchy logo lit onscreen. It was an introduction that I had never seen before. A plump man in a suit with bloody meat on his head holding a little American blue-lit flag at chest level entered stage left and stood behind the blue lit giant cross podium with a mechanical skeleton entombed in it, his appearance evoking the cover of Ministry's 1997 album Filth Pig, as if the boy on the cover had aged a few years, and said more or less, seeming to stumble a second (intentionally or not) "introducing the band Ministry" as if we’d never heard of them.

Then he walked right off again, and I failed to snap a picture before the lighting turned blue, not expecting him to vanish so soon. When the members returned, suddenly Al Jourgensen was there, unceremoniously, along with a woman in a silver skin-tight jump suit with a matching hat over a platinum blonde wig and dark shades. On the opening track, “B.D.E.”  (in whose official lyric video she also appears), she provided the lip-syncing to the female vocal sample and otherwise danced around the stage. Jourgensen himself wore all black, long sparkly chains hanging down in a loop from his left leg, a tall, wide-brimmed black hat with a band of silver medallions, one on a chain on his neck along with a dog tag which frequently flashed in the lights, a long black coat over a black shirt, and high shiny black boots.

He no longer had dreadlocks, just straight black shoulder-length hair and a goatee. He kinda looked like Rob Zombieish in appearance and was by no means dancing around like Numan. With the many samples of their new album, HOPIUMFORTHEMASSES, in the off-moments outside his vocals; Jourgensen spent his time strolling around the stage, shoulders hunched, bopping here and there to the music and pausing to lipsync the samples (mic pointed away from face) or encouraging the audience to join in the chants (pointed in ours). It only then hit me how crowd-oriented the songs are, and my appreciation for the new album shot up. At times Jourgensen would put his elbow on the cross podium, shaking his finger at samples of former president George H.W. Bush (on “N.W.O.”) or tapping his head or shrugging his shoulders and pointing to the crowd at samples like “how concerned are you?” (on “Alert Level”) to either criticize the samples or daring the audience to think about the song's message. It was an education furthering what I had already picked up from listening to the new album before the concert, aided by Jourgensen making comedic gestures to emphasize his points.

Ministry had an effective use of the stage projections. I was positively blissed seeing the midcentury stock footage used during the first song, flashes of smoking white men to express the perpetuating misogyny of American men. Largely a critique and attack on America's radical right-wing and conservative ideologies, I can understand why. In the past, Ministry was mistaken for being a fascist band--as montages of the Confederate flag, Ku Klux Klan footage interspersed with American flags and MAGA hats flashed onscreen to expose the object of their lyrical attacks -- some of the footage I recognized from their visualizers on their YouTube channel. The montage during “Aaryan Embarrassment” led to me having several epiphanies.

Jourgensen periodically spoke to the crowd about being glad to be playing in their home city and appreciating the crowd’s energy. He gave the name to each track before they played, mixing up one track order before correcting himself. My sister and I appreciated the song callouts, me more so for the two tracks off their older 2021 album Moral Hygiene, which I hadn’t heard in a few months. Weirdly, I seemed to be the only one hyped during the Moral Hygiene announcements, as if that album had gone totally over the crowd’s head. After the set of newer tracks concluded, Al Jourgensen said, "Thank you for being so patient for us. Now we'll give you some doggie treats.” He folded his hands like paws under his chin. “Arf, arf, arf."

“What??” (My sister.)

I knew what he meant. Ministry slammed into “N.W.O.” and everyone went crazy. I obviously jumped the highest. The crowd wasn’t doing much in the way of movement, with most being middle-aged people. Then I went MORE ballistic when Ministry pummeled into “Just One Fix” with footage of William S. Burroughs on the screen behind them, whom Al Jourgensen and band members of Ministry at the time personally met in the early 90s and who featured on the song’s music video; clips of which were also displayed onscreen, until the system couldn’t handle old man Burroughs anymore and temporarily crashed, leaving a blue screen and a gray error notification for a verse or so. He returned onscreen in his trademark fedora with the victims of his shotgun blasts exploding onscreen (the words LANGUAGE, SOCIETY, etc), and I launched into the air again, catching some footage of Jourgensen making the track’s iconic screeching guitar solo loop.

When the footage switched to a superfast montage of eyeballs, I knew before anyone around me that we were in for “Stigmata.” I’m sweating just thinking about it. Needless to say, I had the trench coat around my waist and was pumping my arms, getting my workout of the year. When we thought it couldn’t get better, Jourgensen introduced the next song, “Thieves,” and when that drum rapid-fire dropped, I finally realized what my favorite Ministry song is. My feet stomped as I jumped to the beat (as I had always hoped to do, no song demands it more) in my surplus Vietnam war boots to samples from Full Metal Jacket and various protest recordings and news samples, which I occasionally tried to shout along with when I wasn’t losing my balance and landing on some poor soul’s feet. My favorite funny moments of the song were when Jourgensen drew out the line “[y]ou're like a great big f*cking gun/ Just waiting to get squeeeeeeeezed,” and the line “[g]eriatric f*ckface” as he gestured to the guitarist’s face, both of them smiling.

When I thought I couldn’t have more sweat to give, we were set up for “Jesus Built My Hotrod,” the song that finally prompted me to listen to the rest of Ministry’s sixteen album discography. As the stock footage of stock car racing played and Ministry played the Redline/Whiteline Version of the track with added samples, I headbanged despite the exhaustion, which I have never done before, hair whipping across my face and the stage whirling at crazy angles as Jourgensen went “Ding dang a dong bong bing bong” on and off for five minutes into the mic (or was that all a sample?).

Yes, I was in denial. The voice blasting that gibberish into our faces was that of featured Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes, but I don’t blame Jourgensen. Since Jourgensen held the mic up lip-syncing, unlike the other samples, it was the only thing that turned me off since I knew it wasn’t his voice. But you know, it’s complicated enough attempting to lip-sync every “dingadingadongdongdingdongeverwhereigo” correctly and the people want to hear it done right. Besides, it wouldn’t sound the same.

After it was over and Jourgensen thanked the crowd, this gray-bearded middle-aged man in a baseball cap hoodie and jeans asked, “Who introduced you to Ministry?” and thinking back to a moment that the reason I listened to “Jesus Built My Hotrod” was because I was in an obsessive Butthole Surfers listening phase (the singer of which did the original “Bing bing bang a bang bang bing bong” when severely drunk) but then before that when I’d already listened to Ministry’s early stuff–so I answered “Myself.” The man asked, “How old are you guys?” (I guess noticing my sister and me going ballistic, unlike many a middle-aged person), and I said, “our twenties.” He said something like, “It’s great that another generation is discovering their music.” Sure, man. At that point, I suspected there might be an encore, so we waited around.

The band returned, saying since we’d been such a great Chicago crowd, they’d play more. Hence, Jourgensen introduced “Burning Inside” followed by “So What,” and I pumped my fist each time, yelling “YEAAAAH!” (seeming to be the only person to recognize those titles instantly), and, man, they killed. I was running out of breath chanting to “Burning Inside,” and even Jourgensen had taken off his coat, down to arm warmers, fingerless gloves, a black vest, and a black tank. I had particular fun yelling “iQUUUUE!” knowing it was a sample of Al Pacino in Scarface, even though my throat was getting scratchy. And like that, Jourgensen thanked us again leaving the bassist and drummer to carry on awhile after the other musicians left.

We started leaving for real but hesitantly, and a guitar scratching off-stage made us look back. The band got out for a second encore, Jourgensen saying they’d play “a few more,” and we hurried back into the crowd to be treated to their two cover songs, “The Light Pours Out of Me” (originally by Magazine) released on Animositisomina and “Ricky’s Hand” (originally by Fad Gadget) released on HOPIUMFORTHEMASSES. All I could do at that point was sweat and sway my arms to the psychedelic lights and pump my fists to the guitar rhythms, but the music didn’t leave us as the crowd finally herded to the exit, and some guy chanted, “Ricky’s hand… ricky’s hand…” as I stepped at awkward angles down the stairs because the combat boots had rubbed the back of my heels raw even through my fishnets and thick Misfit socks.

Needless to say, after the hype and sweat, it took a while to get to sleep. Thank you, Ministry and Gary Numan, for the joy and the exercise. “Jesus Built My Hotrod” captures my concert experience perfectly in the presence of these musical geniuses:

All of a sudden, I found myself in love with the world

So there was only one thing that I could do

Was ding a ding dang my dang a long ling long



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