LIVE: Ghost @ the Palace Theatre, 12/13/18

Review by Mark Alexander Hudson

Ah, there’s nothing like an evening of wacky Swedish devil-worshipping prog-goth-metal on a snowy December evening in Albany. And that’s precisely what Ghost delivered at the Palace Theatre earlier this month.

Ghost are, to put it mildly, a curious band. Now fronted by Cardinal Copia, their previous lead vocalists were Papa Emeritus, Versions 1, 2 & 3. The trick being that all of these characters are just that – characters – all played by the same man – Ghost mastermind, Tobias Forge. The latest incarnation is not a demonic pope caked in corpse-paint like his predecessors, but rather a wicked priest.

The band consist of seven “nameless ghouls,” all clad in black, and anonymous behind ornate golden masks. Claiming to really be knights in Satan’s service, it’s hard to tell how serious Ghost’s concept is – is their tongue in cheek or coiled around the rotting jawbone of a skull? Song titles like “Devil Church” and “Satan Prayer” hint at the latter.

They certainly put up an unholy racket when they get going, though whether it’s enough to actually raise the Devil is open to question. Visually most impressive, behind a backdrop of stained glass church windows featuring the previous “popes,” the ghouls hammer out their sermon.

To describe Ghost’s music as “epic” is rather an understatement. Most of it makes the songs Jim Steinman wrote for Meatloaf sound like acoustic demos by Sebadoh. Metal, though? Hardly. Many of the numbers have catchy hooks underneath their Metallica-influenced chug, and the latest single, “Dance Macabre,” played towards the end of the mammoth, nearly three-hour set, has a bouncy disco groove that would not be out of place on a Cher album. OK, a Cher album written by Jim Steinman. The Cher comparison did not end there for me. Tobias indulged in a series of costume changes to rival any diva – from priestly attire of every hue, to black & white bat-tailed tuxedos. Very chic, very Bela Lugosi.

And Forge as frontman also belies the “metal” tag. Diminutive, camp and possessing a somewhat nasal but tuneful voice, he would be equally at home in a synth-pop group or even a boy band. OK, a demonic, middle-aged boy band. As he sashayed around the stage I was continually reminded of Joel Grey’s emcee in Cabaret, heightening the overall Satanic Broadway feel of the night.

Unfortunately, someone must have told Forge that he is also an excellent stand-up comic. He’s not. On three occasions the momentum of the show was dragged down by his interminable and excruciatingly unfunny monologues, one of which is his introduction to the band. Yes, they are all called “Ghoul,” and Forge took about 10 minutes to belabor that point. Excising these raps would have tightened up the show considerably, shaving off about half an hour.

But that peeve aside, Ghost certainly put on an original and spectacular show that sent their devotees home happy. Goodness knows what Tipper & the PMRC would have made of it back in the day, though.

Act 1 :
Con Clavi Con Dio
Per Aspera ad Inferi
Devil Church
Jigolo Har Megiddo (acoustic)
Pro Memoria
Witch Image
Life Eternal
Act 2 :
From the Pinnacle to the Pit
Satan Prayer
Year Zero
He Is
Mummy Dust
If You Have Ghosts (Roky Erickson)
(band intros)
Dance Macabre
Square Hammer
Monstrance Clock

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