GHOST at Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Wednesday, November 9. Rating: NNN
Is a Satanic pop-metal show an effective balm for post-election blues? Though the first of Ghost’s two shows at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre failed to lift this reviewer’s spirits – possibly nothing would’ve – it appeared to have a positive impact on the largely young, white male crowd gathered together in mutual devil-horn-throwing, bud-jostling and singalongs.
The popular Swedish six-piece has played Toronto many times by now, and yet a lot of the all-ages audience raised its hands when, near the show’s end, singer Papa Emeritus asked who had never seen them before, which speaks to the band’s ever-growing popularity (as does two almost sold-out nights at the QET).
What’s the appeal? Stunning, hugely melodic and intelligent songwriting, in the mould of, say, fellow Swedes ABBA but with heavier guitars and dark-minded lyrics. (Still, calling Ghost “heavy metal” is becoming more and more of a stretch.)
Then there’s their image: Catholic visuals subverted by Satanic twists. A ghoulishly face-painted Papa wears a mitre, the ceremonial headdress of bishops and abbots, he swings an incense-filled thurible, the band performs in front of faux-stained-glass backdrops of the Virgin Mary, all while singing about Lucifer and sacrifices, etc.
With growing popularity comes that familiar twinge of letdown in some original fans. Now that Ghost are three albums and a couple of EPs in, early-career gems are bound to be left out of the set list. (Death Knell, Elizabeth and Genesis, I acutely felt your absence.)
And these days, Papa relinquishes his headgear partway through the set in favour of his actual hair. Seeing his slicked-back black coif restores him to regular-human-dude status, undermining the air of mystery and fantasy. The Nameless Ghouls, meanwhile, have given up their basic but super-eerie hooded cloaks for tailored uniforms and sculpted, horned black masks that bring the Phantom of the Opera to mind.
That said, newest album Meliora is a strong work (a NOW album of the week in August 2015), and its songs made up most of the set, with the soaring He Is, uplifting From The Pinnacle To The Pit and chug-heavy Cirice standing out in the QET’s somewhat muted acoustics.
Less welcome was Papa’s long-winded monologue ahead of the encore, celebrating the female orgasm and especially its ties to the devil. (This connection was news to me.) Perhaps a well-intentioned attempt to appeal to female fans, it still came off as a little creepy and awkward given the context: a theatre full of hooting men and a few handfuls of women, many of whom are hard at work processing the fact that America just made a sexual predator – among many other terrible things – president.