By Chyrisse Tabone, Tampa Correspondent
Venue: The Ritz Ybor, Tampa–October 11, 2015–Ghost with support by Purson
I was really excited to see that Swedish band Ghost aka Ghost B.C. was coming to our area. I had viewed a few videos on YouTube, particularly “Secular Haze” and five million other people obviously felt the same way as I did. It was music that hooked me first and then the theatrics of the band. I mean, who could not like a lead singer dressed as a “demonic anti-Pope” with ornate robe and papal tiara with an upside-down cross flanked by five masked ghouls with horns? C’mon! Before all the criticism, one has to remember his/her secret crush on Alice Cooper and adoration of Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath. Yes, we’ve all had our dark phases.
Ghost is now led by the almighty Papa Emeritus III (just inducted in June) and his five nameless ghouls with embroidered alchemist symbols on their cardinal garments as identifiers: air, earth, wind, fire, water, and ether. Their music is not played on mainstream radio in the U.S. but the band has garnered a huge following (or shall I say ‘flock of followers’) within the metal scene. Their music has been described as doom metal or even progressive rock—but I could not wait to experience the power and presence of Ghost myself!
Outside of The Ritz-Ybor in Tampa, Florida, the line wrapped around the corner and down the side of the large brick historical venue. When I arrived inside I noticed a crowd of mostly male fans dressed in black and some sporting pentagram t-shirts and skull face make-up. A few female fans wore nun’s habits, Doc Marten’s, gloves, Steampunk or Goth attire—all the garb you would find in a Pyramid Collection catalog. Being an old Goth chick back in the early-90s, I knew I was home again.
The support band was a 60’s psych-rock band called Purson. This five-piece band hailing from London was channeling Haight Ashbury. They had a pretty good rock sound and the lead singer Rosalie Cunningham wailed on the guitar, but the music seemed to not fit with the whole Ghost theme. I do thing the audience started to warm-up to them after they played quite a lengthy set.
Then, Purson’s gear was hauled off and the Ghost set started to come to fruition. They had a drum kit and keyboard at the rear of the stage so there would be plenty of room for the ghouls to jump and romp. The chanting of “Miserere Mei Deus” followed by the eerie “Masked Ball” (Eyes Wide Shut) played while sticks of incense were lit and balanced on the side of the stage. Yes, mass was about to begin.
As soon as the concert began, it was one big whirlwind of music that ranged between the progressive rock sounds of Yes, to the grunge sounds of Alice in Chains, and the metal noise of Judas Priest with a twist of eerie spiritual melodies. The music had hints of classical music (Carl Orff-“O Fortuna“) and even sountrack music by Ennio Morricone and Jocelyn Pook. Oddly enough, there was the sound of a spacy synth in a few songs, similar to those produced with a theremin. It was truly a unique experience to see the ornately cloaked Papa E. quietly float around on stage and delicately raise his hands in gestures while the Nameless Ghouls played bass and guitars, darting around like dancing demons. The audience became more enthralled with every song, with arms raised and waving as if at a revival. Many mouthed the lyrics and sang along as Papa E. encouraged them to sing the chorus. Two moving songs with a lot of emotion and crowd appeal were “Cirice” and “He Is”, both from the new album Meliora (released in August 2015). During “Body and Blood” a couple of nuns handed wafers to the flock while carrying a chalice of wine in the other hand.
Toward the middle of the concert, Papa E. took off his papal hat, changed attire, and we could see his bare hair. At this point he moved about the stage regally like a baron or an esteemed duke. I wondered if he ever played in Phantom of the Opera? Then I pondered, “How could the ghouls could take the heat from running around on the stage with the black long-sleeved outfits, turtle necks that completely covered their heads, and masks?” The masks, by the way, were pretty eerie. They had eyes and horns but no mouths. How the guys breathed, I’ll never know.
I asked a few concert attendees what they thought of the concert. One guy said he liked the music but was there mostly for his girlfriend who was a Ghost-freak. He pointed out the stained-glass backdrop of the set and said, “Did you notice all the homo-erotic symbols?” I looked closer and thought satan-dude did look kind of sexy. It could be Ghost’s way of bringing out the Vatican’s hypocrisy in light of the many scandals through the years. I asked another attendee, “What do you think of all the satanic talk in the lyrics?” She thought it was entertainment and really did not bother her because she “was not religious.” She enjoyed the music for music’s sake. Another attendee said, “I love the music. I just bought a t-shirt. Ghost rocks! Hail Satan!” Whatever. I did run into a colleague’s son who thought I was cool for being at the show. Chalk up one point there.
Seeing Ghost was one of the few shows I can say, “I can’t wait until I see them again.” The musicianship of the Nameless Ghouls was tighter than a devil wearing Spandex. These guys are superb musicians all around. Papa E. did a wonderful job with his singing and presence. He spoke quietly and thoughtfully to the crowd between songs. He was a real class act. Overall, the concert was almost like watching a rock opera. Magnificent.
I left to avoid the traffic jam but later heard that Papa and a couple of the Nameless Ghouls came out to greet fans without make-up and masks. They were very gracious and humble, shaking hands and thanking people for attending. I guess they commonly do this after events and the word on the street is they are “very nice” and “sweet” to their fans. Of course, no photo taking is allowed.
Some things are better left a mystery.
**My favorite song from Meliora is “He Is.” Beautiful. A Youtube comment under the song described it as “If Simon & Garfunkle sang about Satan.”
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I grew up in a household full of rock music, studied journalism in college, and then became a scientist.Although my science career has served me well, music has always played a major role in my life. I grew up reading "Creem" magazine; I play several musical instruments as a "hobby";and it seems a camera has always been in my hand. Now, I am combining what I love the most--music and photography--serving as editor of Rock At Night. My motto: life is short...no regrets. Chyrisse