Manhattan Beat: From Ministry to Red

Ministry/Terminal 5/Oct. 17, 2017

Alejandro Ramirez Casa was born in Havana, Cuba, but shortly thereafter moved with his mother to the suburbs of Chicago.  She remarried and her son became Al Jourgensen.  While in college, Jourgensen started as a club DJ, and then in the late 1970s he played guitar in Special Affect and Silly Carmichaels before he formed Ministry in 1981. Ministry originally performed melodic new wave synth pop band, then electronic dance music, but soon its style grew harder and heavier, and Ministry evolved into one of the pioneers of industrial metal in the mid-1980s, with certified gold and platinum albums in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Ministry split in 2008, but Jourgensen revived the brand in 2011 with a new lineup. Now based in Los Angeles, Ministry presently consists of vocalist/guitarist Jourgensen, guitarists Sin Quirin and Cesar Soto, keyboardist John Bechdel, bassist Jason Christopher and drummer Derek Abrams. Ministry’s 13th and most recent studio album is 2013’s, From Beer to Eternity; a new album, AmeriKKKant, is due in 2018.

During the intermission at Terminal 5, Ministry fans applauded when stagehands inflated two giant balloons that looked liked golden-coifed chickens with anti-fascist symbols across their breasts. Once the live music began, Ministry’s music was bristling with defiance and rebellion. Rather than focus on the band’s most successful albums from 1988 to 1992, Jourgensen instead selected songs from various eras, but focused for a while on political and social commentary. Older songs, “LiesLiesLies,” a commentary on post-9/11 conspiracy theories, “N.W.O.,” a protest of the Persian Gulf War, and “Señor Peligro,” a critical look at then-President George H.W. Bush, remained part of Ministry’s revelry, while the two new songs, “Antifa” and “Wargasm,” were similarly blunt and angry statements on contemporary politics. The accompanying music fit the message, with coarse, shouted vocals and massively crushing guitar riffs with a bombastic undercurrent as a foundation. The concert sounded like the soundtrack to a new American revolution.


Toadies/The Gramercy Theatre/Oct. 18, 2017

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Vaden Todd Lewis grew up listening to country and bluegrass music until he was introduced to ZZ Top, Talking Heads and the Pixies. In 1989, Lewis formed Toadies with his record store co-workers, playing local concerts and recording demos in his bedroom. Toadies became a national success with the song, “Possum Kingdom,” but perceived lack of record company support led Toadies to disband in 2001 and later reform in 2006. The band’s seventh and most recent album, The Lower Side of Uptown, was released on Sept. 8, 2017. The band presently consists of vocalist/guitarist Lewis, lead guitarist Clark Vogeler, bassist Doni Blair, and drummer Mark Reznicek.

Toadies first emerged during the grunge era, and at the Gramercy Theatre tonight, the band harbored some of that abrasive, slurring guitar framework. Vocals and melodies rode on top of these choppy riffs, such that the vocals and the loud guitars seemed to challenge each other as they whispered and roared together. These ups and downs happened so frequently that the compositions seemed to be built around the spacing of crescendos rather than the riding of a rhythm. Rhythms, rather, were fractured repeatedly to introduce more complex and sometimes jarring interludes. These intense peaks and valleys defined the band’s sound. There were many instances, however, where the dynamic might have been more refined if the guitars were played much, much softer.


The Nekromantix/The Gramercy Theatre/Oct. 19, 2017

    Kim Nekroman is from Copenhagen, Denmark, and had served the Danish navy as a submarine radio operator for eight years when he started attending rockabilly festivals and considered starting a band. At age 25, he taught himself drums and played in a rockabilly band, but within three months he found that boring, so in 1989 he purchased a stand-up bass and formed a horror-themed psychobilly band with himself as the vocalist. The band took the name Nekromantix, and began writing and performing songs structured around monster and horror themes. After joining the European rockabilly circuit, Nekroman watched a video of an early Nekromantix concert and was inspired to make the show more visual by constructing a bass from a child’s coffin. In 2002, Nekroman relocated to Los Angeles, where the band became part of the emerging west coast psychobilly movement. The Nekromantix presently consists of vocalist/bassist Nekroman, guitarist Francisco Mesa and drummer Adam Guerrero. The band’s ninth studio album, A Symphony of Wolf Tones & Ghost Notes, was released Oct. 21, 2016.

Psychobilly is rockabilly with a horror theme, so the Nekromantix tour was apt to come around close to Halloween. The Nekromantix headlined the Gramercy Theatre with a fairly naked stage. Visually, there was Nekroman wearing a tall quiff (a hairstyle that combines the 1950s pompadour, the 1950s flattop, and a mohawk), slapping and dancing with his latest custom-built coffin bass. Other than that, the concert was a rollicking feast of dark and dirty rockabilly, infused with a gritty rock-and-roll and punk edge. Songs embracing monster, zombie, vampire, werewolf, and B-horror fiction were made to sound darkly romantic due to Nekroman’s chilling baritone. Some lyrics were downright creepy yet always humorous, and the rhythms and grooves made the songs danceable and fun. This was music that very well could be enjoyed beyond Halloween.


Red/The Highline Ballroom/Oct. 21, 2017

Vocalist/pianist Michael Barnes became friends with guitarist Anthony Armstrong and bassist Randy Armstrong, identical twins, in the third grade in Linesville, Penn. After attending several Christian music festivals, they were inspired to become musicians. They became members of Ascension, playing covers of contemporary Christian music in youth centers around Erie, Penn. Eventually, they gravitated to hard rock. Upon finishing their education in 2002, they relocated to Nashville, where Barnes worked as a nurse and the Armstrongs worked in a mall. In 2004, they formed Red (also stylized R3D or RED), a name they chose because it was “short, meaningful, and easy to remember.” Since 2014, the band’s line-up has consisted of the core trio of the Armstrongs and Barnes with touring drummer Dan Johnson. Red’s sixth album, Gone, will be released on Oct. 27, 2017.

Red headlined at the Highline Ballroom last year on a tour celebrating the 10th anniversary of its debut album, and returned to the venue to promote its new album. The set featured an overview of previous albums and introduced select new cuts, all showcasing a very emotionally-driven alternative hard rock that illuminated the complexities of the human experience. As such, each song was unique in how it delivered its potent message. Barnes frequently placed one foot on a stand and crunched at the waist with eyes clenched as he sang the high notes of a chorus, and the band members were equally animated as they forged an alliance with Barnes’ impassioned delivery. Yet, unlike many emo bands, this was not about wallowing in pain, but more about the healing and hope. Red’s performance was a hard rock that was bright and beautiful.