The lights dimmed as the classic rock playlist gave way to a quiet classical piano piece, and the sold out crowed roared in approval. The smell of incense was strong in the venue, and soon the music switched to Gregorian chants as the anticipation grew. Unfortunately, this tease went on for over 20 minutes, but it proved worth the wait when Papa Emeritus III and his Nameless Ghouls took to the stage and launched into their latest single, the pop-ish “Square Hammer”. Their blend of pop, classic rock and metal sounds big; so big in fact, that you almost get the feeling the Metropolis stage is too small to contain them anymore.
“From the Pinnacle to the Pit”, from the Grammy winning “Meliora”, raised the level of excitement even more, and the crowd eagerly sang along. They followed with a trio of tracks from the first two records (“Secular Haze”, “Con Clavi Con Dio”, “Per Aspera ad Inferi”) that highlighted just how big of a change their sound went through in recent years, with the early material’s stripped down arrangements contrasting with their recent fuller productions.
The masked musicians, the Nameless Ghouls, roamed the stage all night, but the focus is definitely on their singer, the ghoulish satanic pope Papa Emeritus III. At one point, Papa introduced his “Sisters of Sin” and sent them out in the crowd to hand out “communion”, but with a stern warning: “No grabbing of anything, and no touching”. A reference to the new President elect, perhaps?
The second half of the show wisely leaned heavily on the “Meliora” material. “He Is” received a more stripped down arrangement, relying less on prerecorded backing vocals than on the last tour, but to good effect, and it provided another glorious sing along opportunity. “Year Zero”, “Cirice” and “Devil Church” followed, before Papa introduced the communion themed “Body and Blood” with an innuendo laced speech that seemed to link the practice in turn to cannibalism and oral sex. Or something like that.
“Absolution” was one of the highlights of the night, and really, Ghost is at its best when it plays songs like this: pop tracks thinly disguised as satanic metal, with big sing along choruses and keyboards creating huge sonic textures that make the band sound larger than life. Papa then mentioned the passing of Leonard Cohen, in what was probably the most unusual tribute for the late poet. “In his last few days, he unfortunately had to witness the most horrific event of his life”, the singer said, “when that motherfucker got elected”, which drew a huge cheer from the fans in attendance. He then dedicated “Mummy Dust” to Donald Trump.
- The band finished their main set with two classic early tracks “Guleh/Zombie Queen” and the excellent “Ritual” to thunderous applause. “You should know better by now that we won’t leave you like this’ said Papa before launching in a long-winded monologue comparing the show to sex. “It’s Friday night”, said the singer with his strange accent (I think he’s faking a slavic accent but who knows), “love each other. Go home and fuck each other.” After realizing there were many kids in the audience, he half heartedly offered penance. “I’m a foul-mouthed person. I say things like fuck. I say fuck a lot.” The show ended with “Monstrance Clock”. “Come together, together as one” sang the crowd with Papa. It was as much a literal embrace of his speech as it was a figurative celebration of the communal aspect of rock.
The band’s popularity is on a meteoric rise at the moment. The crowds get bigger every time, and a show of hands asked by the singer proved that a large number of fans in attendance were seeing them for the first time. The next album will be critical for them, but it also remains to be seen how much the satanic gimmick will hamper them.
In the meantime, they can present shows like this whenever they want, and I’ll be there.
Opening the show was Marissa Nadler, who sang and played guitar, with another guitarist accompanying her. Her sheepish stage presence almost made one feel uneasy as she was clearly very shy and uncomfortable on stage. Her ethereal singing style wasn’t served well by the bright. harsh sound of the electric guitars, but I’m sure her material is more interesting on record, where you can turn down the lights and chill with a glass of wine. People didn’t quite know what to make of her; even a cover of the Black Sabbath ballad “Changes” (that was near unrecognizable) failed to grab the attention of the crowd who kept talking throughout. It’s good that Ghost are fans of her music and wanted her on the tour, but one has to wonder if that was the best way to warm up the audience. And it seems a little unfair to her to throw her to a crowd that clearly expects something else.
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