REVIEW: Ghost mixes metal and theatrics at City National Civic in San Jose

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SAN JOSE — Ghost is great and their show Thursday night at San Jose’s City National Civic Auditorium was amazing, but before we get to that you may need some explanation of what Ghost is.

To borrow a turn of phrase from writer and Internet star Jerry Holkins on this year’s Desert Bus for Hope telethon: “Ghost is a metal band, but it’s also a cult.”

It’s based on an overarching story of, essentially, a mirror version of the Catholic Church with its own series of Popes. That mythology was reflected in the stage setup, which was made to look like a multi-level marble church altar, complete with faux stained glass windows in the background. It was far more elaborate than most staging, almost more appropriate for a Broadway show than a metal concert.

That makes sense because, in addition to being a concert, it was very much a show, with lead singer Cardinal Copia as the star. Compared to the previous incarnations of Ghost (every album introduces a new frontman, though all played by the same person) Copia is downright light-hearted. He’s played as almost a cheesy lounge singer, constantly hamming it up, and speaks with a thick and vaguely lecherous Italian accent.

Backing him were seven Nameless Ghouls, musicians in identical masks and costumes. Copia even introduced them each individually near the end of the show as “Ghoul” which was a nice touch. It’s a shame they’re doomed to be nameless because the two lead guitarists were fantastic, both as musicians and as actors, emoting more than you would expect from someone whose entire face is hidden behind a demonic chrome mask. The others—a rhythm guitarist, two synth players, a bassist and a drummer—were also brilliant.

The music itself explored the broad range of Ghost’s styles. They’re primarily a heavy metal band, but various songs veer into everything from pop to glam rock to synth-heavy new wave. There were both a keytar solo by a Ghoulette and a saxophone solo by Papa Nihil, the fictional evil church’s patriarch. The show’s set list touched every base and, credit to the Ghouls, they bounced between them seamlessly.

The guitarists were especially impressive. One minute they had their instruments tuned down for the Grammy-winning doom metal track “Cirice,” the next they were sitting on the central staircase with acoustic guitars. Then they were shredding through the heavy “Mummy Dust.” Through it all, they never missed a beat. They even had a chance to show off with dueling guitar solos during one of Copia’s many costume changes.

If there was a common thread between the songs, and in fact throughout Ghost’s catalog, it’s the appropriation of religious music. While it comes out strongest in songs like “Year Zero” and “He Is,” they all have at least an underlying hint of hymns or spirituals. “Pro Memoria,” a crowd favorite, even moves into contemporary Christian rock. However, unlike contemporary Christian rock, it’s about Lucifer whispering into your mind to remember your friend Death.

Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.

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