Ghost’s “Pale Tour Named Death” made a highly anticipated stop in the greater Montreal area at Place Bell in Laval last night, in front of 6,000 devoted fans. This tour marks the first arena tour for the Swedish band, who was recently nominated for two Grammy’s. The elaborate stage set was punctuated by a simple but highly effective light show that uses moving coloured spots to great effect, and a few explosions here and there.
With no opening band, Ghost offered its fans a three-hour concert with a 15-minute intermission. The extended set length allowed the band to add material from its latest album “Prequelle” without sacrificing any of the older concert favourites. That album and its full-length predecessor “Meliora”provided a sizeable portion of setlist, with 8 songs each. Launching the show with “Rats” and “Absolution” set the energy bar quite high, but following them with a string of older tracks killed some of that momentum a bit. Despite a few gems here and there, I feel the early material pales when played next to their more musically accomplished newer songs. But with a generous 26 tracks played, there was something for everyone, and their early material certainly benefited from a sonic upgrade, compared to the ho hum production of the first two records.
Recent court filings have exposed the worst kept secret in rock: Ghost is Tobias Forge, currently assuming the persona of Cardinal Copia, backed by anonymous musicians called the Nameless Ghouls (and Ghoulettes). The singer has a peculiar sense of humour and if musically the show was great, Forge’s rambling speeches derail the flow at times. His meandering stories take forever to get to a point (if they ever reach one), and his double entendres are so juvenile that really, they’re “one-and-a-half entendres” at best. Their amazing rendition of Roky Erickson’s “If You Have Ghosts” (listen to the disjointed original to realize how great their arrangement is) was derailed by pointlessly long-winded introductions of each band member (“On bass, Ghoul!”) and grade-school level sexual innuendos. The show could have shaved off 10-15 minutes of its running time easily and kept a better rhythm throughout.
Musically, the band was on point all evening long. “Year Zero” stands out as one of the highlights of the night. “Mummy Dust” always sounds incredibly heavy in concert and did not disappoint, as did the grandiose “He Is”, and I also loved the acoustic rendition of “Jigolo Har Megiddo”, with its groovy shuffle beat.
Forge uses the many instrumental sections to change costumes. Dropping the heavy cloak of his past persona Papa Emeritus seems to have freed him up to be more active, a necessity with the larger arena stage. Cardinal Copia showed up a couple of times in religious garbs but spent most of the time dressed simply in black. Papa Nihil also made a surprise appearance playing saxophone during “Miasma” to the delight of the crowd.
The regular set ended with “Dance Macabre” and “Square Hammer”, two gems made to specs for an arena crowd. After another long, convoluted rant on fake encores, Ghost ended the night with their usual closer “Monstrance Clock”.
There’s a certain Broadway-esque quality to Ghost’s music that seems amplified live, especially in some of the more bombastic songs. They are a polarizing band: some like it, some don’t. I love it, and judging from the enthusiastic response they got, a lot of people dig it too. The ‘Hail Satan’ attitude is firmly done tongue-in-cheek, and the music is great. I knew they could hold their own in an arena since they opened for Iron Maiden on the last leg of the “Book of Souls” tour (and personally, I thought they’d overshadowed the elder band, who sounded tired after a long tour and on auto-pilot). Judging from this show, Ghost has fully embraced the status of arena act and stepped up their game accordingly. Good theatrical rock lives on.