[Cross-posted at Metroblogging Chicago.]

My ears are ringing.

Last night at the House of Blues the wife and I finally saw the Ministry concert I wrote about getting tickets for a few months ago. At that time it was the first of two final U.S. shows for the band; it became the first of four. For those of you who are interested, there are apparently still tickets available for Sunday.

I must confess, I am getting old. No more jumping around in the pit for this guy. We found comfortable seats along the rail in the mezzanine section, near the bar. We had a great view, and managed to avoid all the crap getting thrown around down on the main floor. Being slightly removed from the action did not stop me from getting up and doing a little headbanging when the moment called for it though. Now, of course, my neck is sore. Like I said, I am getting old.

Things kicked off early with opening act Hemlock, who, according to frontman/bass player Chad Smith, have been around for fifteen years but just got their first record deal last year. I don’t know if that is something to brag about or not. Smith has an interesting stage presence. Imagine Hurley from Lost, and give him locks and a beard. Hemlock had a fun set, although their music did not exactly blow me away. It had a lot of crowd-friendly hooks, but lacked the visceral thrill one expects from a metal show. Smith is a capable enough frontman, but trying to talk the crowd into chanting the band’s name came off a little sad.

The second act was Swedish band Meshuggah, whom I’d seen once before a few years ago when they opened for Tool. They put on a hell of a set. Their material is dark, heavy, and intricate, and their stage presence is almost overpowering in the House of Blues’ rather intimate confines. Meshuggah never met a time signature they did not like, and frequently invite several of them to make appearances in a single song. The band is exceptionally tight — you’d have to be, to pull off music this complicated. Drummer Tomas Haake pulls off some virtuoso work here: He’ll keep standard 4/4 time with, say, the cymbals or snare, while his feet kick out something entirely different to match the bass and rhythm guitar. Hearing it recorded is one thing; seeing it done live is a real experience. And the whole time frontman Jens Kidman just stood front and center, his presence all the more sinister for his economy of movement, just nodding gently with the music. Of course, eventually the lyrics would come around, and he would put one foot up on a monitor, lean into the crowd, and rip everyone’s head off with his voice.

He kinda looks like my friend Blake. I never realized how scary Blake could be.

The main event started off with a fifteen-minute self-promotional PowerPoint presentation, or at least that’s what it looked like. The first thing to appear was the logo of the Chicago Blackhawks projected on the massive screen behind the stage. We were then treated (or, depending on your opinion of the song, forced to listen to) a recording of “Keys to the City,” Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen’s homage to his favorite hockey team. The punk band Dropkick Murphys is famous in Boston for songs about their local sports teams, and there is a certain charm about it. “Keys to the City,” by contrast, gave me the embarrassment shivers. It’s not the best song. And it’s way longer than a sports anthem really needs to be. That was followed by a trailer for the grindhouse-style horror film Wicked Lake, for which Jourgensen composed the score. Then we were treated to another recording, this time of “I’m Not Gay” by the Revolting Cocks, one of Jourgensen’s many other projects.

Then, finally, finally, Ministry took the stage. They opened with “Let’s Go,” the first track from their last album The Last Sucker. The first set, which lasted an hour and a half, was comprised entirely of songs from Ministry’s last three releases, Houses of the Molé, Rio Grande Blood, and The Last Sucker. The albums combine to form an epic three-hour anti-George W. Bush polemic. Seeing them performed live before a projected backdrop of brutal, disturbing imagery juxtaposing 1950s educational films about nuclear safety with the footage from the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq war is about as depressing as a rock concert can get. Combine this with Jourgensen’s stage presence, which is eerily reminiscent of Ozzy Osbourne in the last few years, and I found myself starting to wonder just what I had paid for. There seemed to be a break in clouds for a moment when Jourgensen announced the title of the next song as “N.W.O.”, a song from the band’s 1991 mainstream breakthrough album Psalm 69, but he meant to say “No W.”, which is from Houses of the Molé, and which is what they actually played. Not that the set was bad, by any means. It was worth it just for the exceptional guitar work from Tommy Victor and Sin Quirin.

The second set began with the band members meandering onto the stage one at a time, picking up their instruments, and creating random bursts of noise and feedback that built into mind-numbing cacophony until the dam finally burst and everything melded into the opening bass groove of “So What” from the 1989 classic The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste. From that point on the show was a relentless, non-stop wall of Awesome. When they finally got around to actually playing “N.W.O.” Jourgensen handed over the vocals to special guest Burton C. Bell from Fear Factory. Bell’s stronger voice raised the bar for the rest of the set, which confirmed for me that “Just One Fix” from Psalm 69 is still one of the heaviest songs ever written.

The band rounded out the night with a set from their final release, Cover Up, a collection of covers that include industrialized takes on the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues,” ZZ Top’s “Just Got Paid,” and the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb.”

I wanted to hear “Stigmata” and “Jesus Built My Hotrod,” but you can’t have everything. All in all I’d say the hearing loss was completely worth it. I came, I saw, I bought a t-shirt. I gotta do this stuff more often.