Review: Ghost summons the spirit of classic metal gods at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa
Legend has it Dave Grohl once donned a devil’s mask and sat in with Ghost. It’s possible. We may never know, considering the masked and anonymous Swedish metal sextet works pretty hard to remain nameless.
But you can see how Ghost and Grohl would hit it off. Beneath their sinister makeup and wardrobe, Ghost clearly share Grohl’s reverence for the gods of hard rock and heavy metal — Iron Maiden, Metallica, Rush, the Scorpions, Kiss.
That passion for the classics is the secret to Ghost, who played Tampa’s Ritz Ybor on Sunday. The masks and anonymity, the Satanic lyrics and imagery, the dramatic lighting and incense wafting from the stage — it’s all a great kick, and integral to the appeal of Ghost’s methodical and absorbing live show. But none of it would matter if their music wasn’t memorable. And by the end of Sunday’s show, Ghost’s thunderous rock anthems were pumping around not only the Ritz, but the skulls and souls of the flock who’d come to see them.
Wearing a mocking miter and heavy robes of black, gold and purple, singer Papa Emeritus III showed Tampa its proper reverence on Ghost’s first trip to town: “You’ve got a lot of f---ing cool bands coming from your city,” he said. “Many of them, if they had not existed, we would not be here.”
He was referring to the city’s status as a cradle of death and theatrical metal — everyone from Obituary and Deicide to Trans-Siberian Orchestra — and sure enough, you can see some of that in a Ghost stage show. Papa moved regally — indeed, papally — outstretching his arms in beatific welcome, dangling an ornate thurible at center stage, flicking his wrists like a choir conductor leading his minions in Mass.
All of this is, to some degree, a put-on, a winking cooptation of the trappings of religion that simultaneously mocks the ritualism of rock-god worship. Behind those masks, Ghost may actually be decent guys. Papa noted he’d been warned to keep his cursing to a minimum on Sunday, so he promised “very few s---s and f---s and c---s and stuff like that.”
And when he sent two habit-clad “sisters of sin” into the crowd to serve unholy communion during Body and Blood, he warned the crowd up front to be decent: “I need your word that there’s gonna be no grabbing. Nothing frontal, back, no honk-honk.” (Exactly how this squares with the Church of Satan’s official policy on honk-honk, I'm not sure.)
In the middle of the set, the doxology of Ghost took a turn for the secular. Papa ditched his miter and traded his ornate papal robes for a ringleader’s peacoat; he even swapped his black gloves for white. This, too, is its own bit of satire — hey, beneath those robes, the pope is just an entertainer! — but it also better suits Papa’s stately style of showmanship, which allowed him to embrace the operatic ’70s grandiosity of songs like He Is.
The rest of Ghost’s so-called “Nameless Ghouls” may be anonymous, but they do not lack talent or personality. Spread across the multi-tiered stage, they swirled around Papa like good imps and satyrs, coming together to squeal out dueling licks on Ritual or Cirice. They’d throw in weird, delightful touches all night — proggy organs and synthesizers on Absolution, even a bit of surf rock ‘n’ bop on the bombastic Ghuleh/Zombie Queen. Year Zero was an epic slow-build of giallo keyboards and rumbling guitars that built to a powerful audience chant-along.
Every now and then, they’d even hit the Ritz with such a burst of gleeful exaltation that fans couldn’t help but go nuts. With its honeyed, heartfelt organs and major-key chorus, their cover of Roky Erickson’s If You Have Ghosts was positively Springsteenian in its fist-pumping uplift. And on the crushingly theatrical Mummy Dust, one Ghoul even rocked out on a keytar. Repeat: THE GHOUL ROCKED A KEYTAR.
Just goes to show you never know who's lurking beneath those masks.
-- Jay Cridlin