C O L U M N S
Made in Sweden
Ghost / Pinkish Black
Before the fun could start however, Pinkish Black took the stage to see if they could win over the Ghost crowd. Their performance was one of the most lackluster I've witnessed from an opening band in a long time. Hailing from Texas, this duo possessed about as much energy and excitement as an ancient mummy from an Egyptian tomb. As far as their performance goes, it was just pedestrian at best. The lead singer/keyboardist didn't really have much interaction with the audience other than muttering thanks when people bewilderingly clapped after each song. Maybe the claps were for the fact the song was over, I don't know. Sound wise, if you take the bass of the singer from 90's one hit wonders Crash Test Dummies and make it completely monotone, add in some over the top keyboarding, samples, and some rather average drumming, there's what Pinkish Black sounded like. Their set only lasted about 35 minutes but felt like a freaking eternity to get through. As openers go, usually you see some sort of effort to bring in really high energy and try to win over some fans. That seemed the furthest thing from Pinkish Black's mind. A fellow concert goer said there was a line up near their merch area in the balcony above and he said that "people were probably lining up to jump off the balcony". Couldn't have said it better myself.
The sound of the band was just massive and very high quality, sounding just as good as they did on the album but purely live. No backing tracks for the instruments were present that I was able to notice but because of the layered vocals there were some backing vocal tracks. Now, Papa is damn impressive as a vocalist but to pull off all the vocal layers live is just a feat that is as equally impossible as it would be impressive. I had no problem with the backing vocal tracks whatsoever. As "Pinnacle" progressed, it became very apparent how in charge Papa was. Conducting the music while simultaneously gesticulating, pantomiming and singing the damn song was one of the most impressive things of the night that I witnessed.
The band itself was incredibly tight, given how precisely they would end the song on Papa's queue without missing a beat and without it seeming to catch them off guard. The next couple of songs really got the crowd's blood flowing and then when "Body and Blood" was about to begin, Papa brought out the Sisters of Sin. Two local girls dressed in nun outfits were ushered on to the stage, one carrying a goblet and the other a bowl. As Papa was explaining that they would be ministering communion to those lucky enough to be at the very front, he also reminded the audience that "even though this is a college town, there should be no ass grabbing or tit squeezing of the Sisters". To which the crowd roared with laughter and even a few "awwwww's" chimed in.
As the Sisters were giving out the unholy communion, Papa and the band played their way through a slightly longer version of "Body" and then Papa walked off the stage. Then bassist "Water" (the Ghouls are either Greek letters for their names and/or the five elements.
Interestingly enough, the two guitarists are the only two who have both Greek letters and an element as their identity) comes on, the rumbling opening for Grammy-winning song "Cirice" starts and the crowd goes absolutely mental. Throughout the performance of "Cirice", which ranks up there as one of the best I've ever witnessed, I continually had goosebumps running up and down my arms as the crowd belted out the song at the behest of Papa at certain points. Papa's vocal performance here was one of the best of the night.
After a stirring rendition of "Year Zero", Papa departed and removed his raiments to return to the stage in a very fashionable tuxedo, replete with white gloves. The band came out shortly after and "He Is" started to play and again, the chills raced through me. This song is very special to me for reasons that are my own but hearing this live and hearing it done so well brought tears to my eyes. Highlight of the evening for me, hands down.
Before starting "Mummy Dust", Papa told the crowd that they were going to play a "heavy motherfucker" of a song, to which The National roared like an arena full of lions. The place went nuts again as the band played a version of "Mummy Dust" that was so much heavier than the studio version and which had metal signs flying up all over the place, with the coolest part being the portion of the crowd in the pit area throwing the metal sign back and forth in perfect synchronicity. The band then left the stage in what seemed to be the prelude to the encore. As Papa came out, he addressed the crowd saying that "he had done his intro all wrong as he was supposed to appear and then we were supposed to go wild. So let's try it again." He walked over to stage left, asked if the crowd was ready and then strutted out onstage to a clamorous roar. The bassist and guitarists came out and played an incredible version of "If You Have Ghosts", with Papa discussing Omega's rhythmic fingerwork and Alpha's caress of his guitar. Introducing the rest of the band after this, the band launched in to "Ghuleh/Zombie Queen" which was monstrously received by the now rabid crowd. Not to be outdone, the band followed this gem up with "Ritual" which sent the crowd over the edge. After a long soliloquy, Papa and the band closed out the show with "Monstrance Clock" and after taking bows exited the stage to massive roars and cheers.
Now, I have been to my fair share of metal shows. I've seen bands from every genre pretty much in some capacity live. I've been awed and impressed at the charisma that some of these bands have and totally floored by their stage presence. When it comes to Ghost, they take it to a whole different level. Hands down, they are the tightest band I've ever seen live and their stage presence is so massive that it would be impossible to have anyone else up on the stage with them. Papa Emeritus III (who I still believe is the same person as Papa Emeritus I and II) is the true definition of a showman. He interacted with the audience every chance he had, waxed on about this and that and pantomimed and controlled the Ghost machine with a precision so sharp that a samurai blade would have been cut in half on it.
I can't remember every little bit of what Papa said to the crowd, I am an old man after all, but there were two specific instances I recall with great fondness. The first was when he took the first real opportunity of the evening to address the Richmond crowd and said "Peoples of Richmond, how you doing tonight? This is our first proper visit to the Commonwealth. We drove through here on our last tour but sadly didn't get to stop. But now that we have, we'll definitely come back here again!" The second instance was his humorous banter about the foods we all like to eat in Virginia saying "Now I know you all like your meat and potatoes, your fried foods, and seafood. Actually, I love seafood too and we had some very delicious seafood tonight." The charisma that man has just exudes from him the moment he takes the stage and you are captivated by his ability to control that stage. His gestures and pantomime were nothing short of spectacular, especially during "Mummy Dust" when he pantomimed a penis gone crazy. The Ghouls were just as entertaining as well. Given as they don't speak during the show, Water, Alpha and Omega would hurtle to the front of the stage when Papa was taking a break to get the crowd amped up for the next song. They constantly would hold their hands up to their ears, begging for the crowd to make more noise and would help lead the crowd in clapping at the request of Papa. Even Earth (the drummer) and Wind (the keyboardist) were full of energy. I've never been to a show where the band were just as concerned with engaging the audience as they were.
As I said before, the band's sound was so tight and so crisp it was incredibly amazing. Each song sounded just as it did on the album, with a few little improvements and tweaks here and there. I could go on and on about their stage presence and the sound the band had but the best thing for you to do is to go see them for yourselves if they come near you. I would drive pretty far out of my way to see them again if they don't run through VA again on their next tour. And whether you think they're a gimmick or think they are legit, you are in for a very special treat. If you feel like it, get there early enough to get up front and take part in the offering from the Sisters of Sin when the time comes. Just remember, don't grope them or Papa will get you.
My overall takeaway from this show is that like them or not (I love them in case anyone was unsure), Ghost puts on a hell of a live show and the experience is one of the most engaging and interactive show experiences out there right now. Their sound is spot on, the stage show is really simple, yet brilliant and most of all you can tell they all are having a great time and love what they are doing.
So do yourself a favor and buy a ticket to see them next time they come around, you won't be sorry you did.
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