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Satan’s Favorite Pop Metal Band: Ghost (Live Report + Photos)

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Ghost. Photo credit: Tashina Byrd.

It wasn’t billed as an evening with Ghost

The incredibly long set split up over two acts made the show feel like part of a celebratory victory lap for the band even though the tour will snake into Europe and Australia through next August. We won’t see Papa Tobias in America for a while now even with Prequelle being released only six months ago. Maybe they’ll drop by for the Grammys.

Cardinal Copia, the band leader’s nom de Ghost these days, sat on the edge of the stage during “Cirice,” beckoning fans camped against the barricade. He didn’t jump into the photo pit to shake hands; he sat there, tantalizing the crowd by pointing and waving, but then stepping away rather than press flesh with the front row. This is because Ghost harkens back to the days when there was a wall between bands and fans. There was a time when bands didn’t meet you at the merch table or retweet grainy live photos fans posted from the previous evening’s show. It was a time when rock stars roamed the Earth, and Ghost makes a crowd that likely thinks of an energy drink when they hear that term somehow nostalgic for a time they never knew.

“Miasma” became an instrumental with named ghoul Papa Nihil breaking out a sax solo. After that came an acoustic singalong of “Jigolo Har Mediddo” with CC dressed like a Catholic pimp. The first act took about an hour and featured some lesser-known tracks punctuated with “Rats” off the new album and “Ritual” from the debut. Opening the second act after a 15-minute intermission, the Cardinal wore a red robe and hat to match his name for “Spirit,” one of eight songs from Meliora.

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There were more costume changes than a Broadway musical but with a show that is almost as theatrical, that should be expected. They did this without any pyro, instead relying on Phantom of the Opera-level smoke and dramatic lighting. “I would like to bite your asses,” he said at one point. Huh? Where did that come from? Copia is prone to sudden outbursts of inane stage banter but the strangest was yet to come.

That’s kind of what happens when you lead a bunch of hired guns: there’s nobody to pull him aside after a show and say, “Yo Tobias, that was pretty strange,” and he has no real incentive to listen anyway. If he did he wouldn’t introduce “Mummy Dust” as one that would make “asses wobble” and “tits jiggle.” Also, let it be known that a keytar solo has never evoked those reactions, ever.

The second act lasted considerably longer, bringing the total set time to nearly three hours including the break in between acts. Even the deeper cuts, such as “Satan Prayer,” were insanely catchy. The performance from the Nameless Ghouls (and Ghoulettes according to press material) was professional. Maybe they play characters for the paycheck, maybe they pine away behind the masks wanting to write a song, you wouldn’t know if either thought was going through their collective heads as they did their jobs and did them well.

The Roky Erickson cover “If You Have Ghosts” shows that not only can Ghost pen memorable songs, they can take a tune that seems outside of their comfort zone and make it their own. That said, turning the track into an extended band introduction (which was amazing because, like, they have no names) and several minutes of bass-and-banter might not have been the best way to play it. The momentum of two-and-a-half hours of music seemed to grind to a halt.

It was pretty easy to get back on track though when you have “Dance Macabre” and “Square Hammer” in your back pocket. It’s easy to forgive self-indulgence when Ghost breaks out two of the most brilliant pop-metal songs by anyone, played back-to-back to end the set like it was no big deal. And after a heavy metal bow, followed by a somewhat long time teasing the crowd, the Cardinal awkwardly implored the audience to celebrate the female orgasm. It made as much sense as when he did it opening for Iron Maiden last year. Also, closing the set with the plodding psyche-rock of “Monstrous Clock” remains a head-scratcher.

There are valid criticisms of Ghost. Their business model is at odds with the romantic notion fans have of bands as brothers in metal taking on the world together with a dream and an Econoline van. Even this set could have been 45 minutes shorter and packed a more powerful punch. In between songs maybe Tobias can try and not be such a goofball.

But there are a lot of dumb reasons people dislike Ghost. They’re gimmicky, but who cares? Alice Cooper was gimmicky. King Diamond was gimmicky. Venom? GWAR? Some of the greatest metal bands, all of them gimmicky.

They rip off Blue Öyster Cult and Mercyful Fate? Those are some damn good bands to rip off, if that’s even the case. So is Sabbath, but nobody whines about all the doom metal bands that do just that. A hell of a lot of the 3,000-plus fans at the sold-out Tower Theatre were young, and having a band such as Ghost possibly get them to check out those bands (or NWOBHM in general) is exciting. Metallica got a lot of kids into Diamond Head back in the day as well, a solid development for a ton of people, not just Brian Tatler.

For a band that is supposedly not a band, Ghost has been remarkably consistent. Every album has a handful of songs that are some of the most memorable metal ever penned. Don’t be shocked if Ghost has similar staying power no matter how many different names or costume changes Tobias goes through.

Ghost will be in Europe early next year. Dates here.

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