GHOST - Good Pope vs. Bad Pope: Pontiff & Unholy Ghost Duke It Out In Philly!

September 30, 2015, 3 years ago

Mark Gromen

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It was too good to be true... In an unintentional stroke of marketing genius, Heaven and Hell were set, to send their European emissaries to the City Of Brotherly Love on the same day, September 26th. From Vatican City, Italy, God's human mouthpiece, in town for a mass attended (disappointing totals in some eyes) hundreds of thousands, during the World Meeting of Families. One subgroup, a brotherhood of black-shirted minions, was alternately to gather at Union Transfer to witness the masked (and reputedly Swedish) purveyors of the dark side, Ghost, captivating loyal subjects with slick imagery and an insidiously melodic catalog. Sadly, political logistic ruined everything. The city closed the bridge between NJ and Philly for the better part of three days. Same with the highways in and around Philly. Mass transit was restricted to pre-paid fares only and from restricted debarkation points. Ultimately, a several square mile grid of downtown was locked down to nothing but foot traffic, regardless if resident, papal visitor or concert goer. In light of the virtual shutdown, the promoters moved the gig to the following Tuesday, when things got back to normal. What could have been a historic day became just another show. Shame.

Like the Vatican, a Ghost show is open to all "faiths," not just the dyed in the wool metalheads, far from it. With a sound compared to The Beatles, had they taken too much acid, the assemblage was anyone who likes a little campy, tongue-in-cheek evil. Honestly couldn't see 3/4 of these attendees at a Watain show, for instance. Speaking of comic bits, they were selling a concert t-shirt with Pope Francis kneeling to kiss Papa Emeritus' ring. After “Con Clavi Con Dio”, during which Papa was more animated than he'd been for the three songs photographers get to shoot, he wisecracked about the city's recent visitor. "How about that Frankie (aka Francis)? Heard there was poor attendance? I knew I could count on you! He's the second biggest Pope in the world (much laughter).32 is quite gooey."

Orchestrated pre-concert experience, from the burning incense on a bare stage, to eight white headlights shining into the face of the audience. The drums and keyboards are on a small riser, a pathway down the middle facilitates a third egress to backstage. Liturgical music/chant is piped in, at low volume. When the white lights fade, its showtime, the Nameless Ghouls taking the stage first, followed by Papa Emeritus, to an uproar of approval. From the first words of their opening “Spirit”, those in the front row were singing into the ears of the photogs in the pit. Speaking of spirit, there was a vital urgency in the delivery of a heavier “From The Pinnacle To The Pit”, at one point the stringed trio of Ghouls forming an instrumental circle jerk. Purple hued “Ritual” saw Papa depart the stage, even before the song was complete, giving the final few moments of the photographers' attention, to his henchmen.

The initially green lit “Per Aspera Ad Inferi” begins with a clap-along. Ever notice Papa wears leather gloves onstage? Must have some serious tattoos that would give away his identity. He wildly swings the thurible (metal, incense burner, on a chain) in time to the music. Off kilter keyboard notes introduce “Majesty” while the chugging, steel blue lit “Stand By Him” sees the band across the front of the stage. The bombastic “Prime Mover” closed out the strongest three song arc until near the end of the set.

Papa starts “Body And Blood” with, "a slower one, not just for the ladies, but for the men too." A blackened stage comes to life with a lone liturgical organ (“Devil Church”), there's no Big Man, just the Ghouls clanging out metallic sounds, eventually leading into the seemingly Slayer inspired beginning to “Cirice”, bass/drum accents punctuated by a quick flash of those headlights. Papa's had wardrobe change! Gone is the mitre headgear, returning in brass button waistcoat (somewhere between classical conductor/opera singer and Prussian military uniform), white shirt beneath & matching gloves. “Spöksonat” is another short non-vocal interlude (the pizzicato harp notes emanating from a darkened stage) before so damn melodic/infectious “He Is”.  

A strong pair of newbies, “Absolution” and personal fave, “Mummy Dust” followed. Purple lights in front of a backdrop made to look like stained glass windows, acoustic guitar wielding ghouls seated on the edge of the stage and matching candelabras greet “Jigolo Har Megiddo”, Papa playfully asking, "Lust, aren't we all guilty of that? Do you feel lust, Philadelphia?" and then added, "I'm not convinced', before mockingly asking 'Give me the claps' as the fans added to the sparse onstage melody. Recently, they've aptly added a cover of Roky Erickson's “If You Have Ghosts”, keeping with the sense of humor running throughout the band and live show. It serves as the proper set finale. 

For the encore, Papa (do we still call him that in his new, modernized "street clothes") not only told the audience what “Monstrance Clock” was about (sex), but advised them to "Sing it like you mean it. Like you want it and you like it!" The pedestrian number was framed in (bulging?) purple, the pulsating white headlights returning. The "come together, together as one" lyric truly the point of the evening, arms outstretched by the sold out crowd. A recording of the song still resonated, as the stage goes black once more, allowing the band to disappear, under cover of darkness (how appropriate); a mystical, anticlimactic exit. 

You will succumb!

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