Live report: MINISTRY's "public exorcism" of synth-pop demons at Cruel World festival | Revolver

Live report: MINISTRY's "public exorcism" of synth-pop demons at Cruel World festival

Al Jourgensen and Co. played 'With Sympathy' and 'Twitch' songs for first time in many decades
Ministry Al Jourgensen Cruel World 2024, Ashley Osborn
photograph by Ashley Osborn

Ministry fans were treated to a very special performance of the band's early synth-pop era at last weekend's Cruel World festival in Pasadena, delivering an electrifying 45-minute set that was as much a cleansing ritual as it was a "public exorcism."

The stage was filled with fog, red roses evoking the cover art to 1983's With Sympathy, and Halloween imagery that made even the blazing California sunshine feel somewhat ominous. The 13-piece ensemble included former Nine Inch Nails' keyboardist and composer Charlie Clouser, the Ministrettes on backing vocals, and the Ministringettes providing extremely badass orchestral strings.

"These ladies actually put up with us. Who knew that was possible?" Jourgensen remarked after introducing the women who had joined forces with the band for the day.

It was obvious that everyone onstage was having a blast, as Jourgensen reclaimed the songs that had been a sore point for so long.

Ministry Backup Singers Cruel World 2024, Ashley Osborn
The Ministrettes
photograph by Ashley Osborn

Released in 1983, With Sympathy was considered a commercial success, though Jourgensen's relations with Arista Records were strained. He's since repeatedly denounced his early "flavor of the month" material and famously destroyed the master tapes.

Ministry's second studio album, the more abrasive Twitch, was released in 1986 by Sire Records. For the U.S. and Canadian tour to support Twitch, Jourgensen assembled a new touring lineup, featuring Paul Barker on bass, Roland Barker on keyboards, and Bill Rieflin on drums. They also released several singles throughout the summer of 1985, "All Day," "Everyday Is Halloween," "The Nature of Love" and a reissue of early single "Cold Life," which marked the beginning of the band evolving towards a more industrial sound.

Some of those songs were indeed reintroduced to the crowd at Cruel World, but the biggest surprise of the set was "I'm Falling", Ministry's first ever single from 1981, which scored Wax Trax! Records their first hit when it reached No. 45 on the Billboard Hot Dance/Disco chart in September 1982.

Up next was the re-envisioned "Effigy (I'm Not An)," from With Sympathy, which featured more driving guitar and less poppy vocals than the original. While images of Jourgensen sporting a slick, short hairstyle flashed on the screens — part of an Eighties makeover that he later said he hated — his memorable faux-English accent from the era was missing at Cruel World.

Jourgensen told the crowd Ministry were ending "this fucking wing-ding" with a song about a "certain holiday," as cheers erupted from the audience. While their version of "Everyday Is Halloween" was faithful to the original synthy "bop-bop" banger, the operatic strings provided by electric violinist Mia Asano and electric cellist Tina Guo created a lush atmosphere for an anthem cherished by misunderstood goths around the world.

Ministry Mia Asanao Cruel World 2024, Ashley Osborn
Ministringette Mia Asano
photograph by Ashley Osborn

When Revolver ran into Jourgensen's daughter Adrienne after the set, she remarked how thrilling it was to see her dad perform some of her favorite songs. Though With Sympathy and Twitch were incubated before she was "even a twinkle in my mom's ovaries," Adrienne said she'd been requesting the older songs be added into rotation for years.

She added that Ministry stole the show by pouring "love, creativity and brainstorming" into their retro set. It was obvious from the cheering and dancing that the crowd agreed.

Ministry Al Jourgensen singing Cruel World 2024, Ashley Osborn
photograph by Ashley Osborn

Despite Al's plans for Ministry's "final album," between the return of bassist Paul Barker and recordings of these updated New Wave-era songs on the horizon, the band's reign certainly isn't over yet.

And with Jello Biafra spotted in the Cruel World audience, perhaps a reboot of LARD — his project with Jourgensen — isn't beyond the realms of possibility, either!