Live music can be different things to many people. Myself I find it a cathartic release of my inner teenager. At 35 now, I recall back to those days spent following (and playing in) local bands, and saving money to see national acts put on larger shows. Often we look back on concert-going experiences with rose tinted glasses; always remembering back to some exhilarating show that we witnessed in our youth. “Best concert ever” is often overheard at current shows, and is invariable spoken by someone recalling back to a time when they were much younger. I too am guilty of this having witnessed many excellent bands put on great performances over the years. I have always waxed poetically in regard to seeing Pantera play one of their last club shows before turning into a headlining, arena destroying act. That was back in the early 90s right after Vulgar Display of Power dropped and they played a sold out show at the Sting in New Britain Connecticut. Sacred Reich opened up and being all of 14 myself it was always the show that defined the epitome of what concert could be; until July 27th 2013.
Hartford Connecticut, The Webster Theater, a small, typical venue the likes of which can be found in most metropolitan areas of the country. A decent sized stage buffets the orchestra pit and the back wall of the building houses a bar. The floors are stained by the blood sweat and tears of a million previous souls that have witnessed greatness on the stage. On this night I was eagerly anticipating my second concert from occult/doom rockers Ghost (Ghost B.C.). Having seen them a few months back in New York at a sold out show in the Bowery Ballrooms I was amazed they were making an impromptu stop at our little theater in Hartford. Skeletonwitch (another band I enjoy quite a bit) was the opener and was a welcome relief as so far Ghost has not had the strongest lineup of bands opening up for them (Ides of Gemini in NYC was absolutely terrible).
Skeletonwtich played an energetic if not short set. The band absolutely destroyed their recorded material on stage. The highlights of their set included Beyond the Permafrost and a new song Burned From Bone from their upcoming release Serpents Unleashed. The crowd energy was pumped already for the evening and the frenetic pace put forth by the band helped to turn up the heat in the building (actually and metaphorically – the humidity in Hartford that night was a lovely 72% and the air inside the theater was thicker than soup). I would also like to say thanks to the band for hanging out in the lobby after the show and singing autographs at their merchandise table.
So, the hype is built and we all funnel to the front of the auditorium eagerly awaiting Papa and the Ghouls to take the stage. Fans of all types are gathered as one. I see shirts from every end of the rock and metal spectrum. From Nuclear Assault and Dark Funeral to the Grateful Dead and Sleep. The energy the crowd is generating is palpable, and the anticipation for the band reaches such a fevered pitch that the entire place erupts into applause every time the canned music changes a track. Finally, after an instrumental opening track the nameless ghouls of Ghost hit the stage and the intensity level is almost to the breaking point. After the instrumental opening track Infestissuman the band rips into Per Aspera Ad Inferi and Papa Emeritus II glides onto the stage. The tidal wave of energy finally breaks, and like a pent up orgasm the crowd releases. The collective feeling of unashamed joy like that is mind altering. No amount of drugs or alcohol can compare to the cumulative effect of the band, the music and the people around you putting forth such a tremendous amount of life. It is almost heart stopping, and not matter what I write about it, unless one experiences it first-hand no words can give it justice.
Ghost is a rare band in the fact that as great as they sound recorded they blow that away a thousand fold on stage. The set is an equal mix of their debut release Opus Eponymous and their recent smash Infestissumam. Picking a single highlight is difficult as everything is almost eerily perfect. Prime Mover, Elizabeth, Secular Haze, Body and Blood are all put forth while the crowd chants, screams and dances along. Even the pit that springs up occasionally is peaceful and devoid of the usual metal show assholes and shenanigans. The band closes with (arguably) their most successful track Ritual and exit the stage. All night, the crowd has been chanting, near screaming in a frenzy for the band to play Ghuleh/Zombie Queen. A near eight minute long song that opens like a ballad and ends like a 60s surf pop song. After a few moments break the band returns to the stage, the anticipation from every corner of the room is immense and then it hits. The first slow, discordant notes of Ghuleh slither out of the PA system and the room goes berserk. Rarely have I witnessed at a live show the level of emotion that was put forth from the crowd for that performance. I would like to write more about my own experience, but for those eight or so minutes I was not possessed of myself anymore. A second encore of Monstrance Clock put the entire show at the 1:30 mark and Ghost finally departed the stage. In their wake a sea of sweaty but wholly satisfied fans. If you ever want to see a group of jaded metal fans with giant ear to ear grins on their faces that would have been the perfect moment.
Twice now I have been to a live Ritual (as the fans call their concerts) with Ghost and they are simply one of the best performers that exist today. It was a night I will never forget, and will assuredly be reminiscing about this event another 20 years from now; most likely outside of another show talking about the “best concert ever”