Some of the best musical theater of the last 40 years has come straight out of hard rock and heavy-metal concerts: King Diamonds ghoulish presence and operatic vocals; W.A.S.P.s meat-pelting and models-on-torture-racks spectacle; and, of course, Alice Coopers death at the end of every show. Sure, there are plenty of earnest, plain-clothes metal bands that rely on musical performance over high drama, but to some degree, metal has always been about escapism. And no band in recent memory has embodied metals escapist tendencies better than Swedens Ghost. ---
Following a performance by neofolk singer / songwriter King Dudewhich I missed due to a painfully slow-moving line to enter House of Bluesthe masked, robed and nameless ghouls of Ghost took the stage Saturday night like a group of evil monks. Against a canvas backdrop made to resemble stained glass, the musicians quickly transitioned from casting an ominous image to just plain rocking the fuck out, soaring into a high-energy performance of the instrumental title track from their latest album, 2013s Infestissumam.
And then, Papa Emeritus entered. The charismatic frontman of Ghost, Emeritus isjust like the rest of the banda mysterious figure, draped in papal vestments, his face obscured by corpse paint. Hes like a sinister pope, basically, and even once campaigned to be pope, before the conclave decided to go with Francis. And when he slowly strolled to center stage, holding his scepter with his left hand and hoisting up his leather-gloved right hand, thats when the fun really began.
For as much theatrical mayhem and Satanic mischief as Ghost creates through their elaborate image, theyre basically a great rock 'n roll band. Certainly, through songs like Ritual, Year Zero and Ghouleh / Zombie Queen, they evoke the classic heavy-metal sound of Denmarks Mercyful Fate. But just as often, Ghost displayed a keen knack for pop hooks through standout tracks like Stand By Him, which owes more to the hard-rock swagger of Blue Oyster Cultthough my wife noted that the song actually sounded a little like Michael Jacksons Beat It (which actually isnt that far off).
Deeper into the set, it grew increasingly obvious just how much fun the band seemed to be having, despite how sweaty they must have been under their heavy robes. At one point, Emeritus even gave a bit of a tell that there was a lighthearted regular Joe underneath the face paint, as he noticed someones young child near the front row (not the only one, I might add).
There is a small child here tonight, Emeritus said, looking both caught off guard and pleasantly surprised. Pleasetake care of the little one. From there, the group brought out a pair of nuns (Sisters of sin, they called them) to offer communion to the audience during Body and Blood; added an extra dose of doom to The Beatles Here Comes the Sun; and shone a spotlight in the subtle humor in being a band of nameless musicians by having Emeritus introduce each musician with nothing but wordless gestures and light displays.
Its refreshing, given how seriously some corners of the metal world take themselves, to see a band give itself so willingly to spectacle and kitsch. If theres one thing that Ghost delivers in more plentiful amounts than many of their peers, its fun.