Manhattan Beat: Ministry, Collapsing Scenery, Laura Jane Grace, Black Lips

Ministry/Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn/April 15, 2019

In 1961, shortly after the Cuban Revolution, the family of three-year-old Alejandro Ramírez Casas escaped from Havana and settled in Florida. In 1964, his mother remarried and adopted her husband’s surname for herself and her son. The couple raised the boy, who came to be known as Al Jourgensen, in Chicago and Breckenridge, Colorado. In 1978, Jourgensen relocated from Colorado to attend college in back in Chicago. There, he worked as a radio DJ and played in several short-lived bands. Jourgensen finally found success when he formed Ministry in 1981, through which he helped pioneer the industrial metal movement. Vocalist/guitarist Jourgensen is Ministry’s only constant member; the band also presently consists of guitarists Sin Quirin and Cesar Soto, keyboardist John Bechdel, bassist Tony Campus, and drummer Derek Abrams. Ministry released their 14th and most recent studio album, AmeriKKKant, on March 9, 2018.

Vans sports brand presented a six-day screening tour for Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax Records, a documentary about the Chicago-based independent record store and record company that launched industrial music, and the tour stopped at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Fans were invited to attend the screening, a brief panel discussion that included former Ministry/Revolting Cocks musician Chris Connelly and My Life with the Thrill Kill Cult’s Groovie Mann, and live sets by Ministry and Cold Cave. For the occasion, Ministry performed a set of only deep cuts and vintage catalog. Jourgensen occasionally joked about the throwback format of the set. “That was actually kinda fun,” he told the audience after playing “Jesus Built My Hotrod,” a song Ministry had retired from live performances in 2006. Surprises also included Connelly joining the band on stage for “Burning Inside,” similarly resurrected for this tour, and “So What.” Connelly returned for the encores of the Revolting Cocks’ “No Devotion” and for a rare acoustic version of “(Everyday is) Halloween,” which Jourgensen introduced as “about walking around and not being accepted by society.” For the entire set, Ministry’s performance was filled with healthy rage and fast, loud, and extremely aggressive music. Industrial music remains an underground genre, but few bands are as well equipped as Ministry to blast it to the masses.

Collapsing Scenery/Home Sweet Home/April 16, 2019


Through the early two-thousands, Pennsylvania-born and New York City-based Don Devore played in many local bands and is currently the curator for the Brooklyn arts space Trans Pecos. Texas native and Los Angeles resident Reggie Debris doubles as Mickey Madden, bassist for Maroon 5. They met in Los Angeles and reconnected in London while each was touring. In 2013, the two musicians started a new band, Collapsing Scenery, with a goal of casting aside the stringed instruments on which they had first learned to play music and on which they were comfortable and versed. Instead, they assembled an array of analog electronics—samplers, step sequencers, synths and drum machines—all supplemented by effects pedals. It did not mean they were abandoning traditional instruments; it meant they were going to create untraditional music. Collapsing Scenery has performed at art installations and underground clubs, and will release its debut album, Stress Positions, on June 28.

Collapsing Scenery celebrated the announcement of its pending album release with a free performance at Home Sweet Home. Debris as vocalist and Devore as multi-instrumentalist, along with a drummer, Ryan Rapsys, crossed the lines of futurist electro, goth, industrial, techno, post-punk, chillwave, and darkwave with haunting vocals and a hard pulsing beat. Abrasive, aggressive, and jolting, the performance seemed to border the fine line between sanity and insanity, with Devore ranting on social injustices as Debris challenged the listener with a mix of conflictingly coarse and meditative soundscapes. Collapsing Scenery has built on the sounds pioneered by Suicide, Swans, and Sonic Youth in the nineteen-eighties and taken them one step further over the edge for some creative and engaging experiments in noise rock.

Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers/The Bowery Ballroom/April 18, 2019


Laura Jane Grace was born in Fort Benning, Georgia, but her family moved frequently between military bases in Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Germany, and Italy. When she was eight years old and living in Italy, Grace bought her first guitar by mail order with money saved from mowing lawns. Her parents divorced when Grace was 12-years-old, and she moved with her mother to Naples, Florida. While in junior high school, Grace became a fan of punk rock, attracted to the nihilistic and anarchistic ideals of the genre. At age 13, she played bass in her first band, formed with members of her church youth group, playing Nirvana and Pearl Jam covers at church talent shows. After playing in several local bands, Grace recorded her first demo in 1996 as Against Me! Moving to Gainesville, Florida at 18, she began performing as Against Me!, either alone on an acoustic guitar or with a friend drumming on pickle buckets. After several successful albums with Against Me!, Grace announced in 2012 that she had experienced gender dysphoria since her youth and became the first highly visible punk rock musician to identify publicly as transgender. In 2016 Grace formed a side project, Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers, with bassist Marc Jacob Hudson and Against Me! drummer Atom Willard, and released a debut album, Bought to Rot, on November 9, 2018. Since 2013, Grace has lived in Chicago.

Laura Jane Grace has pressed pause on Against Me! to concentrate on more intimate singer-songwriter material, but the new songs seemed to carry the same punk attitude when performed at the Bowery Ballroom. Grace sang confessional lyrics that spoke honestly of her life’s travails, laced with pop melodies and punk energy. The set consisted of all 14 songs from the Bought to Rot album, plus 10 cover songs. Grace did all the vocals and guitar work, with far more attention to voice than to lead guitar interludes. Grace’s voice was clear on the gentler lyrics and gritty when she came to the angry lyrics (which was often). The scope of the songs ranged wider than with her primary band, with perhaps a toned-down flavor overall. The songs still rocked but they did not all blast the audience’s faces to the wall as Against Me! has done. This was a side project done well: it was a familiar-sounding yet distinct presentation that expanded the originator’s sound on all edges.

Black Lips/The Bowery Ballroom/April 19, 2019


Guitarist Cole Alexander and bassist Jared Swilley left their band, the Renegades, and formed Black Lips in 1999 in Dunwoody, Georgia. Born of a DIY ethic, Black Lips started by playing sweaty basement shows in Georgia and eventually toured traditional circuits as well as remote areas of Asia and the Middle East. Black Lips drew a fan base not only due to the band’s rough and dirty garage rock but also because of the band’s provocative theatrics. Live performances have included vomiting (Alexander’s medical condition), masturbation, urination, nudity, electric radio-controlled car races, fireworks, flaming guitars, and other wild antics. Unhinged shows led venues to ban the band from returning, and the band quietly fled some third world countries ahead of schedule in order to escape arrest. The band presently consists of Alexander, Swilley, guitarist Jeff Clarke, saxophonist Zumi Rosow, and drummer Oakley Munson. Black Lips’ eighth and most recent album is 2017’s Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art?.

Black Lips’ concert at the Bowery Ballroom was tame in comparison to some of the band’s previous New York City performances. There were no shock-rock activities on stage, and the crude, fuzzy garage rock songs even seemed somewhat toned down. In true Black Lips fashion, however, the music pivoted on raw and fast cowpunk-flavored rock ‘n’ roll. When the coarse guitar chords gained momentum, the audience’s slam dancing, crowd surfing, and stage diving began in earnest. Rather than refine and polish their craft over the years, the musicians maintained and amplified the messy sound that has become their signature. The difference with this performance was that Black Lips repeatedly followed the speedier songs with slower songs rather than performing an extensive block of high energy material. Nonetheless, Black Lips’ rock ‘n’ roll frenzy was engaging and captivating.