Ghost is more than a band, it is a movement, and an experience to behold. Shrouded in mystery, this devil worshipping ministry has been spreading unholy gospels all around the world since 2006 using the medium of music and entertainment, creating quite a reputation for themselves. In their newest album Prequelle especially (being released June 1st, the day following my attendance of the show) Ghost truly stands out at its finest and most unique. They have broken the mould and combine several styles of metal with pop and classic rock styles as they continue to reinvent themselves while still holding true to their roots. The members are hidden in annonominity as six nameless ghouls lead by the notorious anti-pope and front man appearing as several different characters known as the Papa Emeritus blood-line (Papa’s I, II and III) up until recently when Papa III was “killed off” and replaced by the younger and seemingly more sinister figure known as the Cardinal Copia.
I had the privilege of seeing Ghost one time before on their Black to the Future Tour for their album Meliora. That was right before they won the Grammy for “Best Metal Performance” in 2016 for the song “Cirice”. In fact, the photographs taken at that very show were the ones that lead me to pursue my career in concert photography. So, as you can imagine, I was more than excited to attend when they made their announcement for a date right here in Milwaukee WI at the Riverside Theatre set for May 31st. I dressed for the occasion mocking a Satanic version of a religious private school uniform, invited all of my closest friends and fellow metalheads and headed 3 hours south to enjoy a special evening with Ghost.
When I arrived to the Riverside Theatre the line extended all the way down the block! Something I personally had yet to witness. All the fans were dressed for the occasion varying from basic Goth and metalhead attire to all out Ghost Fandom. They had make up like the former Papas, Sisters Of Sin garb, and even some were dressed like the Cardinal. Everyone was in great spirits despite the hour or so wait to get into the building. The show even began a bit late there were so many fans in attendance. I was all the way in the pit and people were still shuffling in. The theater itself was something straight out of the history book. It was so beautiful with sparkling chandeliers and details throughout the architecture. I couldn’t have picked a more ideal setting for a band like Ghost to play in if had tried, it was like a dream.
The lights dimmed and my heart rate instantly picked up as I prepared for the curtain to rise. The track “Ashes” from the newest album was playing and building all of our anticipation. I could feel the attentiveness of the entire room behind me. Then slowly the curtain pulled away revealing all of the Ghouls and Ghoulettes. The three guitarists standing perfectly still in a triangle form while the Ghoulettes began the keys which lead right into the first performance “Rats!”. All the Ghouls sprung into action in an instant as the Cardinal Copia entered the stage commanding all of our attention. There was so much energy coming from the stage it was almost overwhelming, but in the most positive way I have every felt. This held true through the entire set, of course, but there is just nothing like that initial burst of energy you get from the intro song.
“Rats” was followed by “Absolution” one of my favorite tunes from Meliora. It was at this moment I couldn’t help but participate in the action.( After all Ghost was literally one step in front of me.) I sang all the words back with the Cardinal. I threw the horns up at Ether (the rhythm guitarist) and he nodded at me in approval; I felt my heart flutter. Later in the tune when the Cardinal went to take a breath I was sure to throw the horns up to him as well and he pointed right at me in acknowledgement. I will cherish those small gestures for the rest of my existence. I didn’t let myself get too distracted, however. I got right back into full photographer mode as I captured each performers unique personality.
They all shine so brightly even under the mask. Their spirits come through their music and its truly remarkable. The last time I saw Ghosts perform everything was set up much differently. Now it is a full production. On the stage in the back right hand side there stands 2 beautiful Ghoullets behind the keys. They also participate in back up vocals as well as using other instruments like the tambourine. On the back of the stage on the left side there is Earth, the drummer, and the Ghoul that fans are referring to as the “Swiss Army Ghoul”, named for his many talents. He did backup vocals, tambourine, and even guitar! He was a truly a Ghoul of many talents. On lower stage right is where Fire, the lead guitarist, spent most of his time. In the center was Water, the bassist and on stage left was Ether. All three guitarists would switch positions now and again as well, but the stage always remained well balanced as the Cardinal came and went around the entire stage as he pleased. They were all very aesthetically pleasing. I could tell they put a lot of thought into their overall stage presence.
They played many of the old favorites including “ Con Clavi Con Dio” where the cardinal had on his classic red uniform while swinging the incense and “Stand By Him” from the album Opus Eponymous. Joining the band on stage during the song “Miasma” one of the instrumental tracks from Prequelle was Papa Nil joined by 2 Sisters Of Sin of whom where selected to join him at the beginning of the show. He busted out his Saxophone and played a very sexy solo. Although he was old in appearance he gave it his all. So much so that he had to be escorted off the stage by the Sisters. We were all so distracted by the amazing sight that we didn’t even notice the Cardinal had re-appeared dressed in all white with his cane and wide brimmed black hat. The Cardinal noticed right away that we had forgotten about him and began to heckle us all immediately. Saying something to the effect of, “Hey! He’s gone now!” and complaining that we missed his “Bitchin’ entrance” We all laughed as he continued, “I’m going to go hide in the corner and we will try this again okay?” The whole stage went dark and we all roared with laughter. His voice came out of the darkness, “Okay,” he said, “Here I come” and the whole room cheered as loud as we all could muster.
As the show continued the Ghoul guitarists appeared on stage with Acoustic guitars for a classical performance of “Jiggolo Har Meggido” a feature from their album Infestissumam. The stage went dark once again and the spotlight shown on just the Cardinal himself as he sang another track from the newest album. This one was “Pro Memoria” which is a kind of ballad type of song. As the Ghouls began to trickle back in onto the stage, I took a moment to kind of step back and take everything in. They were just…so captivating. Everything was so well thought out, the lighting was beautiful, the sound was crystal clear, and the whole room felt united. We were right there with Ghost, all of us, in the moment. It was something that I can try my hardest to describe but you just don’t know what it is like unless you are there experiencing it.
There was an intermission. We all began to go around the venue, talking with other fans, buying merch, getting our drinks. Probably our 10th bottle of water since the venue was so hot it was like you couldn’t drink enough. I was wondering the upper level blissfully unaware of the chaos that was going on in the pit below me. I was talking with a friend about how the 15 minute intermission had gotten suspiciously longer and we beginning to grow worried. About half an hour or so went by when a man approached the stage, “Attention” he said, “ There has been a tragedy. Unfortunately, we have to cut the show short. Please be respectful start leaving the venue.” We all looked around confused. On man shouted, “Is this real?” and there was a silence that washed over the room. The announcer repeated,” Please, be respectful,” we all knew then that something serious had really happened and began to shuffle out of the venue. All of us in the upper level exchanged confused murmurs about what was happening until one received word that there was a medical emergency that had occured in the pit below. The vibe of the entire mass had changed. In all honesty it sort of felt like something similar to how I imagine it was like during the sinking of the Titanic. Maybe it was just the old victorian decor combine with the mass of people in confusion, but it was truly a heartbreaking sight to behold. On my way home I saw that Ghost has issued a statement on their personal page:
“Tonight, in Milwaukee there was a medical emergency with one of our fans. We decided not to continue out of respect to him and his family. Ghost and all who work with us ask that you please send the family your thoughts, prayers and respect their privacy during this time.”
Although I have heard a lot about the incident that had occured, I am unclear on the details of what had taken place in that time. However, to me personally, it really showed me a lot about the band’s character. Many were disappointed, a few angry by the show being cut short but to me personally I think it was very respectful of Ghost to call it off after that devastating event had occurred. It shows me that their level of respect for their fans is even more than I have ever seen or heard of. I will reflect on this evening with them at the Riverside theater as an emotional night, for not just myself, but all the other fans that went to the show as well. It put things into perspective for me and made a mark on my life. The performance, the tragedy, it all changed me and I did not come back from that concert the same person.
My thoughts, prayers, and much respect goes out to the family of the individual. Thank you to all of the staff of Riverside who worked hard that night and did what they could; thank you to the emergency staff, and thank you to Ghost. Your performance was truly remarkable once again and I will never forget it. I hope to see you again very soon.
Photos By Emily Niesen.
Check out more of Emily’s work here.
Get your tickets to see Ghost – Rats! On The Road Tour HERE!