Ghost / All Them Witches / Tribulation

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Ghost / All Them Witches / Tribulation - First Direct Arena, Leeds (UK) - 23 November 2019

When I first saw Ghost in 2011 on the third stage at Download, fourth from the bottom of the bill, I thought that it wouldn't be long before we would see them playing larger venues, and here they are, eight years later, on a headline arena tour. And I have often thought that they would be good in this size of environment, and was curious to see how the show transferred to the bigger stage.

Before that however, they had two support bands, the first of which was Tribulation, a Swedish Metal band, fronted by bassist/vocalist Johannes Andersson. And it turned out that Johannes, bless him, was a growler. Now readers of any of my previous reviews will know that I am not a fan of this, but I have to say, the music was on it. So much so that I started to forget the growling. I couldn't understand a word of it of course, but the whole thing worked quite well together. The stage was fairly gloomy at the start, to the extent that we couldn't see the drummer, but more lights were added as the set progressed, and I was actually surprised at some of the effects created by the lighting and smoke, as usually support bands are not afforded that. I particularly liked the guitarist on the left of the stage, who I believe was Jonathan Hultén, who was very fluent and dramatic in his movement. The sound at times became a little bassey and mushed, but maybe that was how it was supposed to sound, and there was some very nice harmony guitar in the last song. They got a good reception, and seemed pleased with what they had achieved in their allotted forty minutes. And I just bet Johannes Andersson has a good voice. I would be curious to hear it.

Setlist: Nightbound, Melancholia, The Lament, The World, Cries From The Underworld, The Motherhood Of God, Strange Gateways Beckon

Next up was Nashville, Tennessee band All Them Witches. The three-piece (keyboardist Jonathan Draper left the band a year ago), played Blues-based, free-form Stoner Rock, which again I am not too familiar with. The first three songs all seemed to be at the same tempo, which was slow. The vocals, which again I couldn't understand a word of, were more shouted out than sung, quite angrily for the first two, while the free-form style resulted in very little structure in the songs, particularly in the vocals, with no iambicity or rhythm to get hold of, at least, not until the second to last song, which also featured a not-too-bad drum solo. Some of the material was a little repetitive, but occasionally the guitarist produced some nice sequences.

Setlist: Funeral For A Great Drunken Bird, 3-5-7, 1x1, Diamond, Charles William, Dirt Preachers, Blood And Sand / Milk And Endless Waters, When God Comes Back.

And then it was time for Ghost, and I would get to see if my earlier prediction produced something a little special. For some time before the show really started, we had monastic singing to lead us into proceedings, followed by 'Ring-a-Roses.' The first thing I noted was that the band had swelled a little since the last time I had seen them. There were now eight people on stage, two keyboard players, three guitarists (on occasion, the guitarist at the back on the left also played tambourine or vanished altogether), bassist, drummer and Cardinal Copia, or Tobias Forge, himself, at the front, in a very dapper red tails suit. The stage floor had a chequer board cover, where smoke came through in various places, which led to a wide (made to look like stone) set of steps up to a tier with drummer and keyboards on, all overlooked by three large stained glass windows. Very impressive. The Cardinal had the crowd in the palm of his hand right from the start, and must have covered a couple of miles as he was all over the stage. And while the over-riding theme of Ghost's music alludes to devil worship, the band never take this seriously and there is a lot of humour woven into the set, with the two main guitarists, black and white, competing for attention while duelling through an instrumental version of 'Devil Church', the main duel ending with the theme tune to Emmerdale Farm. 'Miasma' started with three characters in hats and long beak masks, and ended with the old 'Papa' playing his saxophone and collapsing through exhaustion into the arms of his two minders. Following this, The Cardinal entered the stage on a child's trike, looking a lot like 'Billy' from the Saw films, and did the standard audience participation bit where he split them to see who shouted loudest, before doing 'Ghuleh/Zombie Queen.' Throughout the rest of the show we had pyro, fire curtains, confetti canons and one of the two lady ghoul keyboard players coming out on her portable keyboard. The evening ended with 'Square Hammer' and there wasn't an encore, but it didn't really matter. I'm not sure why, but the band took their applause at the end while a Country and Western song played over the PA.

This show was very impressive, and it was the first one for a long time where I sensed a genuine atmosphere of excitement and expectation. It was attended by people of all ages, from the very young (less than four feet high), to the not young at all really (also less than four feet high). I was happy to see that Mr Forge had transferred to the arena so successfully, and what I had just seen surpassed my expectations to be honest. I have also heard that Cardinal Copia won't be around for much longer. What next I wonder?

Setlist: Ashes, Rats, Absolution, Faith, Mary On A Cross, Devil Church (including Emmerdale theme music), Cirice, Miasma (Papa Sax Solo), Ghuleh/Zombie Queen, Helvetesfönster, Spirit, From The Pinnacle To The Pit, Ritual, Satan Prayer, Year Zero, He Is, Mummy Dust, Kiss The Goat, Dance Macabre, Square Hammer. .

Review and photos by Andy Brailsford

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