Phantom on Ghost

A couple of years ago my friend Dana tried to share the band Ghost with me.

I wasn’t having it.

I don’t know which songs she played, but the high-pitched, timid vocals and the orchestral prog-not-quite-but-sort-of-metal that seemed to drone a bit didn’t click with me. Dana did her best to explain that they were a showy, theatrical band that was aping the conventions of Catholicism.

I still wasn’t having it. It just didn’t get me. Or rather, I didn’t get it.

I don’t think that was the first time I had attempted to appreciate Ghost, but it was the first time there was more than a casual effort. I had listened to or watched the first thirty seconds of several songs over the years.

Fast-forward to this past April and the release of the first single from Ghost’s 2018 album, Prequelle – “Rats”.

Everyone I knew was going bonkers for this song. I was well aware that many of my friends were fans of Ghost, as every time they came through Atlanta there were countless pictures and videos of their admittedly impressive-looking live shows. But there was an extra level of enthusiasm for this new song and video. So I had to check it out.

I was blown away.

“Rats” was nothing like the music that I had heard previously. I pressed “play” fully expecting to endure another thirty seconds of music that, to put it politely, was not to my liking. Instead, I watched to the end, literally on the edge of my seat, devouring every phrase, every note, and – perhaps most importantly – every dance move.

This new front man had me mesmerized. Papa Emeritus (I knew some things), despite his outrageous garb, had never captivated me. He seemed to just sort of stand around with his arms raised a lot. I mean, how much can you do with that stupid hat on?

But this new guy – Cardinal Copia, I would soon find out – was a dynamo!

And the song itself was a rocking, 80s-esque jam. I watched the video several times in a row, absorbing every detail. I couldn’t remember the last time I had dialed in to a song or artist so completely. There’s a whole other post to be written about how we experience music as we age, but I won’t get into that here. Suffice it to say that at 42 I don’t experience new things as graciously and enthusiastically as I did even ten years ago.

I was completely taken with this band just from this one song! So I did what any record-loving chump would do and preordered the new album on vinyl, deluxe edition and all, despite my decades of experience with albums featuring exactly one song that I like.

While my vinyl copy of Prequelle was a couple of weeks late – a delay I was informed of via a very apologetic and polite email – my digital download arrived right on time. Since I recorded an album review with our friends Ryan Cadaver, Nicole Ghouled, and Dan Kelly I won’t go too deep here, but the short version is that I loved it from beginning to end.

Check out the first-ever Needless Things Minicast for the full Prequelle review!

And now I was dying to see Ghost live; or a Ritual as they apparently called it.

A Pale Tour Named Death was announced sometime after the album release. Ghost was going to be in Atlanta at the Roxy.

And I, of course, was scheduled to work that night.

In case you’re new here, let me explain my terrible work schedule – I work twelve hour shifts that alternate days and nights every two weeks, from 5 PM to 5 AM or vice-versa. My two weeks go like this:

Sunday – off

Monday – work

Tuesday – work

Wednesday – off

Thursday – off

Friday – work

Saturday – work

Sunday – work

Monday – off

Tuesday – off

Wednesday – work

Thursday – work

Friday – off

Saturday – off

Yes; I get days off during the week and I have every other weekend off. But working twelve hour shifts means that the days that I work are almost literally gone from my life; there’s no time for anything else. Even when I’m on days I have to get up at 3:30 AM the next day, so going out is not an option.

Hang in there – I’m explaining all of this so you know just how much this album sunk its hooks into me.

Part 2 of my shitty work dilemma is more universal than I thought. My vacation time comes from the same bank as my sick time – all called “PTO”. This means that I have to save a certain amount of time every year just in case I get sick, because I don’t want to have to cancel vacations when I’m too ill to report to work.

It wasn’t this way for my first decade here, but when they changed it I found out that that’s how most American corporations operate, which is one of the countless signs that American corporations are garbage and reasons why many Americans hate them so much.

So we pick our vacation at the beginning of the year when the work schedule is posted – yes, for the entire year – and hope that however much PTO we have saved is enough to cover any illnesses or emergencies we might have.

Hopefully by this point you’ve realized that I had to use 12 hours of my banked PTO to go and see Ghost. Because I had to see them. And fortunately we had reliable child care for the night and Mrs. West was able to go as well.

A Quick Note About The Roxy – The new Roxy location is fantastic. It’s surrounded by bars and eateries, so that’s nice, but the best part is that it’s great in both design and sound quality. To be fair I’ve only seen two shows there – Rob Zombie and Ghost – but the experience was tremendous both times. I am not an “up front” person at this stage of my life. But even standing in the very back by the bar with my arms crossed, nodding my head, I had a good view. And the sound was excellent for both shows.

Okay, so here’s what actually drove me to write this in the first place – Ghost live. Or the Ritual, as it were.

Much like They Might Be Giants earlier in the year, Ghost had no opener. They simply played two sets for a total of three hours with a ten-ish minute intermission in the middle.

What I expected was a massive stage setup with a lavish light show and a masked band performing in an almost ceremonial manner.

What I did not expect was the amount of humor and personality that came through all of the pomp and circumstance.

Cardinal Copia is one of the best front men I have seen live. He sings, he struts, he gestures large and small. He’s Joey Belladonna and Mick Jagger and Alice Cooper all rolled into one, but still unique unto himself. Despite the mask, theatrics, robes, and hats he still connects with the crowd.

One of the concerns I had was that Ghost would be too much performance and not enough rock n’ roll.

I’ve never shared this, but one of the most disappointing live music experiences I’ve had was seeing Tenacious D. Because they weren’t putting on a rock show, they were doing a comedy show. It was a staged performance, not an organic music experience; if that makes sense. Don’t get me wrong – they were awesome. But I went in with the wrong idea – I thought I was going to see a rock show.

Ghost had all of the theatricality and glamor I wanted, but it was still a rock show.

Copia knew how to work the room. He had the classic stage presence deal where everyone in the room would swear he locked eyes with them at least once, while at the same time appearing to single out some individuals for a gesture or a comment.

And he was funny! The last thing I was expecting was humorous stage banter, but there were several laugh-out-loud moments among a fairly consistent stream of connecting with the crowd verbally. Lots of “Are you ready, Georgia?” and “We’ve played so many shows, but tonight is special…” type stuff. All in that pronounced Swedish (I guess?) accent that during the show I thought was supposed to be Italian.

There was a whole bit about how we, the audience, were going to have our asses wobbled and our taints tickled. He also yelled at the audience for supposedly gazing into his butthole while he was trying to point out the hole in the kick drum.

Copia, however, was not the only one to play around a bit. The Nameless Ghouls (Ghost’s band members, who wear creepy silver masks and remain anonymous) had a few opportunities to have fun, including a guitar duel and a hilariously drawn out band introduction that included Copia introducing each member as “The Ghoul!” with just as much gusto as David Lee Roth might have said “Eddie Van Halen” and “Michael Anthony”.

Aside from the fact that Ghost didn’t perform their cover of the Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s A Sin”, I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better setlist.

Even though I loved Prequelle, I had never gone back and checked out Ghost’s other albums. I knew how I felt about what I had heard and my trusted musical friend Ryan Cadaver had pretty much confirmed that the new album was a fairly different sound from their previous efforts. I figured I’d wait and see them live to see how songs that weren’t from Prequelle sat with me.

Fortunately for this noob, the band played plenty from the new album and spaced it out through the two sets, so I never went too long without a familiar tune. Not that it would have mattered, because each song performance was a great experience. Copia changed costumes something like six times throughout the show, creating different moods for different pieces. Sometimes he was in a skintight black or white suit for rock n roll partying, once he threw a scalloped capelet on top of that (think Batman; or more accurately, Batgirl).

For one apparently serious rock hymn Copia emerged in red robes with one of those Catholic smoke balls. I know I could look up what they’re called, but I think it’s funnier to say “Catholic Smoke Ball”.

One of the highlights of the show was the appearance of Papa Nihil (now that I know the character’s name) to blow out some sweet sax rhythms at the apex of “Miasma”. He did his thing, then sort of crumpled as his two handlers placed a cape on him, James Brown style. But then he rose up once more, like a phoenix, to play the last few notes of his solo. It was tremendous.

Ghost is one of the best live bands I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a few. I daresay even without my love of Prequelle I would’ve enjoyed the show, but without that album I probably wouldn’t have gone. As things stand, I’ll go see them anytime they come through Atlanta. Heck, if they continue the weird VIP thing where they have the “Dead Papas” on display I might even shell out for that.

For my money a great band can’t trade on one thing. You can’t just be technically proficient. You can’t just have a charming front man. You can’t just put on a big show. Great bands have to not only blow the crowd away with spectacle, but also charm them in an intimate way that many musicians simply don’t have the talent to accomplish. Ghost does it all, and I’m so thrilled that everything lined up just right for me and the missus to have the opportunity to experience such a rare thing live and in person.

A Quick Note About Satan – I was raised in a Southern Baptist household that most would consider fairly religious. I can’t say I’ve carried most of those practices into my adult life, but I have found my own peace with many of the beliefs. As such, I can’t help but approach stuff with a heavy “SATANIC” bent with a bit of caution.

Scoff if you will, but there’s no version of Satan that has your best interests at heart. I may not believe in a red guy with horns poking people in their bottoms with a pitchfork, but I do believe in the collective evil of humanity and that there are repercussions for what are conventionally known as the Seven Deadly Sins. While most people claiming an affinity for Satan or wearing inverted pentagrams are completely silly, it would be foolish to dismiss the potential menace of those who might genuinely seek to do harm.

Having said that, I believe Ghost are evil/Satanists/devil-worshippers/whatever as much as I believe that Josh Brolin is a giant purple alien who wants to eliminate half of the sentient life in the universe. It’s an act, it’s a theme, it’s an attention-grabber. In the grand tradition of Alice Cooper, KISS, Marilyn Manson, and Lady Gaga, Ghost has found a gimmick that they can work to the hilt for the sake of stardom and success.

And for me personally there is nothing at all wrong with mocking the ever-loving shit out of the Catholic Church, which is clearly an institution of mankind’s evil.

Now that I’ve offended Satanists and Catholics, my work here is done.

A Quick Note About Musical Styles – Apparently there are a lot of people really hate Ghost because they can’t categorize the music or are thinking wrongly about what kind of music it is.

I think that’s stupid. Here’s how I categorize the music of Ghost – “Music I Like”. Who gives a shit? Why does it need a label beyond that?

Just for the record, during the show Cardinal Copia referred to their music as prog rock.

Be sure to join the conversation in the Needless Things Podcast Facebook Group!

You can follow Dave as Phantom Troublemaker on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for all the best pop culture commentary!

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