On Tuesday, September 22nd of 2015, Ghost kicked off the first show of their US tour when they played the Fillmore Silver Spring, coincidentally the same day that the pope arrived in Washington DC. The mysterious Swedish band is always a spectacle to see live with their elaborate unholy church theme. While their catchy songs are on the lighter side of the metal spectrum, their live show has always been the main attraction for this band.
The only opening act at this show was Purson, a London based psychedelic rock band. I only caught the end of their set (there was a huge line to get into the show) but I wasn’t too impressed by what I did hear. The music was fairly standard for the style and not really that interesting to me. Vocalist/guitarist Rosalie Cunningham was wearing an extremely low cut, skin tight catsuit that certainly got her lots of attention for anything but her music. I couldn’t help feeling like I’d just seen the same shtick when Lucifer opened for High On Fire and Pallbearer at the Baltimore Soundstage last month.
Ghost is known for their stage set up which resembles the inside of a cathedral complete with an imitation stained glass backdrop. The band is anonymous so they all wear masks to hide their identities, a gimmick that has led to much speculation about who the band members actually are. The instruments in Ghost are all played by the “Nameless Ghouls” who were wearing metallic masks with devil horns and no mouths. The vocals are handled by Papa Emeritus III, an unholy pope with a skull painted mask on his face, long papal robes with upside crosses adorning them, and even a mitre (what most people call a “pope hat”) with the band’s logo emblazoned on it.
Ghost played for about an hour and a half, but that time went by pretty quick since they are so entertaining. They played eight songs off their newest album, Meliora (see the entire set list here). The songs have kitschy but fun openly satanic lyrics for the most part, and the entire audience sang along for most of the entire show. The music itself isn’t anything revolutionary, it’s fairly simple and straightforward but they do have some cool riffs in there and Ghost is really catchy overall.
The performance can best be described as broken up into two halves, the first half had five songs from the first album Ghost album, Opus Eponymous, and was the typical unholy church mass you might expect. For some reason they started the show off with the song “Spirit,” the rather lackluster first track off of Meliora. An odd choice since just two songs later they played “Ritual,” a song which has one of the best openings to get a crowd into a show that a band could hope for. Even the second song they played, “From The Pinnacle To The Pit,” would have been a better opener. There was also a short drum solo in the first half of the set, which was ok I guess but to a metal head that has seen some absolutely incredible live drum solos over the years it wasn’t anything that wowed me. If you have seen Ghost prior to this tour then you probably knew what you were getting for the first half of the show.
The second half of the show was a bit different than the first, and caused some controversy among the band’s older fans. There were still plenty of songs from Meliora in this part of the set, but no more tunes from the debut were played. Several from the second album, Infestissumam, were performed in the second half of the show though. The really defining thing that separated the first and second halves of the show was when Papa Emeritus III changed costume. He ditched the robes and mitre and came out in a much more form fitting jacket that looked like something a naval commander in the days of wooden ships might wear. I can understand the idea of trying to update and evolve the character of Papa Emeritus to keep it from getting stale, but I think the execution here was a miss. An evil twist on a more traditionally religious costume might have gone over better and kept with the unholy church theme. Papa’s voice also seemed to have more trouble in the second half of the show, he missed a few notes here and there, though he tended to recover quite well. There was a cool section that featured two songs being played acoustically. I rather enjoyed this as I had to miss their recent acoustic performance at the Sound Garden in Baltimore. At one point the Nameless Ghoul on keyboard duty stepped into the spotlight for a brief keytar solo, which was a bit ridiculous yet seemed to fit right in with the campy Ghost performance. There was an encore which featured several songs, including “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen,” a highlight of the show, and even “If You Have Ghosts” a track off their covers album. The 19th and final song of the set was “Monstrance Clock,” a catchy song that had the entire audience singing along to the chorus.
In all the show was a lot of fun. The first half was a more traditional Ghost show while the second half was a more modern take, even if didn’t quite hit the mark at times. Still, it’s good to see the band trying new things to stay fresh and relevant in a time where music fans have such short attention spans. Ghost is still a great band to get the uninitiated into metal concerts because they’re just so much fun live and that’s something both new and old metal fans can agree on.
The following photos were all shot by Metal Nick at the show, the first of hopefully many collaborations between Metal Nick and Metal Chris!