Less than five blocks away from the Mother Church of Country Music, there was a sermon being delivered from the stage of the Andrew Jackson Hall that was polar opposite of what most people would expect from Nashville, TN. Just up the street from country twang filled honky-tonks on Broadway, throngs of fans descended upon the Tennessee Performing Arts Center to spend an evening with Ghost who brought their Rats! On the Road tour to Music City USA on May 23rd.
In advance of their fourth studio album, titled Prequelle, set to be released on June 1st, Cardinal Copia and the Nameless Ghouls of the Grammy Award winning band Ghost are currently in the middle of a month long US tour bringing their message to the masses during an “evening with” format that features no opening bands but nearly two hours of one the best theatrical and musical performances you may ever witness.
As most Ghost fans know, the identity of the Nameless Ghouls that make up the band remained a mystery up until a 2017 lawsuit resulted in the unmasking of former Ghouls and even Papa Emeritus himself. As a result, and arguably for the better, Ghost frontman Tobias Forge is bringing a much larger production with this tour which now includes more performers, backing vocalists, and even a surprise appearance by a saxophone playing Papa Nihil.
With the curtain down and the angelic, yet ominous sounds of Gregorio Allegri’s “Miserere Mei, Deus” resonating through the house speakers, members of the flock, beverages in hand, scurry down the aisles to their seats when suddenly a low drone followed by the sounds of children’s voices singing “Ashes” brings a loud roar and a sense of urgency from the congregation. With the bang of a drum and a long open D chord, the curtain rises and soon thereafter we’re treated to “Rats”, the first single off their upcoming album. A dapper, dressed in all black, Cardinal Copia appears and again the crowd erupts. Fist in the air and asking “Are you with us Nashville?” the Cardinal conducts the first of many sing-alongs. Following “Rats”, the band transitions into “Absolution” off their third and most current studio album, Meliora. After a quick “Good Evening Nashville!,” the service continues with back to back songs off their first album, ‘Opus Eponymous’. In between “Ritual” and “Con Clavi Con Dio” the congregation was witness to the first of four outfit changes as the Cardinal was now donning his black robes.
After powering through “Per Aspera ad Inferi” and “Devil Church,” we see Cardinal Copia return to his black suit for fan favorite “Cirice.” Midway through the song, a young lady catches the eye of the Cardinal and he drops to a knee, takes her by the hands and serenades her, ending with a kiss on the hand as the chorus ends and the crowd cheers in approval. Then, following another song from deep in their catalog, “Stand by Him,” the congregation is treated to another new song from the forthcoming album, an instrumental called “Miasma.” With dueling guitar harmonies, 80’s classic rock synth, a finger tapping guitar solo, and a light and fog show to match, this song did not disappoint. The cherry on top, literally at the top of the stage, would have to be the moment when two nuns wheeled out a decrepit Papa Nihil, clothed in his traditional white robe and matching embroidered mitre, for a ripping sax solo!
It’s at this point in the performance where we see the charisma of frontman Tobias Forge, excuse me, Cardinal Copia, really shine through. Upon reentering the stage dressed in an all white suit, black hat and cane (think a resurrected Michel Jackson a la Smooth Criminal, just more evil), unimpressed by the reaction of the crowd, the Cardinal asks, “Nashville . . . I do an entrance that rips the fucking carpet apart, and this is what I get? A ripping entrance like that, a bitchin’ entrance, deserves a big cheer! So, uh, let’s do this again, but you need to be quiet. I’ll go hide, and then we’ll do a big cheer. Are you ready (crowd screams)? Then shut the fuck up (laughter erupts)! Ok, here I come!” As you can imagine, a standing ovation all through the theater. A much more pleased Cardinal thanks the crowd and asks them to give themselves a round applause followed by a big round for the Ghouls. Then, the Cardinal along with the bass and guitar players sit down for an acoustic rendition of “Jigolo Har Megiddo,” and the congregation claps along to keep the beat. All that was missing was the campfire. Up next is yet another new track, “Pro Memoria,” a song tailor-made for the musical theater production that Ghost is showcasing on this tour. Wrapping up Act I, yes folks, that was just the first Act of two, was “Deus in Absentia.”
Following a brief intermission, the curtain rises accompanied by the sounds of a creepy, winding organ straight out of an episode of Scooby-Doo and Act II begins with “Spirit” as Cardinal Copia descends the stage in his red robes. The band barrels straight through and into the chunky bass intro of yet another long time fan favorite, “From the Pinnacle to the Pit,” after which the Cardinal took to the pulpit to address the congregation. “How you doing? I hope you took the opportunity to go and, eh, you went to the toilet, right? You’re not standing there like (mimicking a kid with their knees squeezed, needing to pee!). That’s the point, ‘cause we’re gonna rock your asses off for like over two hours! So are you ready to rock now?” He goes on to mention the new record, ‘Prequelle’, coming out on June 1st. “It’s very good . . . very, very good!” Rock our asses off they did, as the band moved right into another new song, “Faith” before continuing on with some older tunes in “Year Zero,” “He Is,” “Prime Mover,” and “Mummy Dust,” the latter of which was supposed to “tickle our taints” and saw a blizzard of confetti shoot from the stage, covering the crowd with what Cardinal Copia jokingly said was “really money and worth shit loads!” Before concluding Act II, the band performs a cover of Roky Erickson’s tune “If You Have Ghosts,” introduces to their sixth new song of the evening with “Dance Macabre” and closes with their first Billboard Mainstream Rock #1 song “Square Hammer.”
After three minutes of applause and chants of “One more song! One more song!” the Cardinal emerges from backstage and encourages the flock to “Go home already.” To which the crowd yells “Nooo!” The Cardinal retorts, “It’s over. We’re done. We’re done rocking! Imagine that I’m already in the shower.” The Cardinal reluctantly acquiesces to the crowd, telling them “You better make this fucking count!” as he then goes into the meaning of the encore song, “Monstrance Clock.” Let’s just say that congregation, from young to old, received a crash course in female “satisfaction.” And with the final notes and chorus of “Monstrance Clock” repeating in the background, an evening with Ghost comes to a rousing climax.
Heading into this show I was vaguely familiar with Ghost at best, knowing only the songs that are in rotation on satellite radio. Leaving this show I have to say that Ghost has a new fan. The performances, the music, the mood, the elaborate gothic church backdrop, the theatrics . . . Rats! On the Road really delivered the closest thing to a Broadway musical that a metal head can appreciate! Assuming they will extend their tour upon the release of their new album, ‘Prequelle’, on June 1st, I hope for the sake of those who didn’t attend this run of dates, that Ghost sticks with the “evening with” format as I feel this is the way their music should be consumed.