The final show of Ghost’s current US tour should be a joyous occasion, but there’s a pall hanging over it. There were been some fairly big hints dropped in the last instalment of their Ghost Chapter mini-movie series that frontman Cardinal Copia – aka Papa Emeritus IV – isn’t long for this mortal coil. Whatever Twitter is calling itself these days is buzzing with concerned Ghost fans fearing the worst. Even Copia himself seemed to hint as much onstage at last night’s show, the first of two nights here at LA’s colosseum-like Kia Forum. “We are approaching the end of an era,” he croaked. “So let’s have a good time.” Does he know something we don’t?
Let‘s put those dark thoughts aside for now and celebrate Ghost for what they’ve are as we approach the end of 2023. The band that started as real-life mastermind Tobias Forge’s last roll of the dice after years of near-misses and abject failures have turned into one of metal’s most unlikely success stories. These two shows at the Forum – in which no cellphones are allowed – will see them playing to upwards of 30,000 disciples, among them Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson, Cradle Of Filth’s Dani Filth and New Years Day's Ash Costello, all watching on intently from the seats.
In little over a decade, Ghost have gone from being incense-waving intruders on the middle of a bill at a death metal festival in a London club to metal’s ultimate razzle-dazzle showmen. And there’s plenty of razzle and dazzle tonight, from the gigantic stained glass windows that illuminate the back of the stage to Forge’s multiple costume changes – upwards of eight in total, including more than one shiny lamé suit jacket and his trusty old papal-robes-and-mitre ensemble.
Brilliantly, there are as many people on stage tonight as there are in Slipknot: Forge plus eight ghouls, including three guitarists, two keyboard players and a black-clad, batwinged backing vocalist who twists, twirls and bashes her tambourine like an undead Stevie Nicks.
But this is Forge’s show – or rather, Cardinal Copia’s. Part needy, Ritalin-starved teenager, part unlikely sex symbol who prompts orgiastic screams from contingents of the crowd with every flouncing flick of the wrist, he prances and preens around the stage, channelling the ghosts of Freddie Mercury and vintage Willy Wonka.
He’s a magnetic MC, convincing the crowd that it’s a glamorous Friday night rather than a drab Tuesday, and offering a winking, “Go home and fuck somebody, or go fuck yourself”. He’s an even more charismatic singer these days, nailing epic hair-metal-anthem-in-disguise Kaisarion and bringing playful menace – or maybe menacing playfulness – to Cirice and Ritual (the 30 people who saw them play that song at the Camden Underworld during their second ever show back in October 2010 would be gobsmacked at the journey its taken since). And then there’s Mary On A Cross – there’s always Mary On A Cross - and another Papa Nihil cameo, wheeled out in an upright coffin towards the end the ever-fantastic Miasma to rip out that sax break, before being unceremoniously bundled back in his casket and wheeled offstage. It's a slice of showbiz genius that never gets old.
Surprises? Yes, and they’re biggies. The first is the troupe of eight, writhing skeleton dancers who make their first appearance during a suitably roaring Twenties, dancing provocatively around Forge before hoisting him high above their heads like it’s an episode of Strictly Come Dancing.
The second is the small b-stage at the opposite end of the floor, tricked out with baby grand piano. It’s there that Forge suddenly appears out of nowhere to sing their hauntified cover of Roky Erickson’s If You Have Ghosts with the Ghoulettes – a pianist, two cellist and second vocalist whose soaring soprano has Forge genuflecting in awe at the song’s conclusion before launching into an impassioned speech in support of anyone who is experiencing mental health issues. It’s a rare serious moment, though not so serious that it stops him donning an electric blue boxer’s robes and boxing gloves and dancing his way back through the crowd to the mainstage like an undead Mohammed Ali.
And there’s the third, potential surprise – the one everyone’s been dreading. By the end of a three-song encore featuring Kiss The Go-Goat, immortal banger Dance Macabre (featuring the return of the skeleton dancers, who once more lift Forge above their heads like a sacrificial victim in a blue lamé jacket) and a magnificent Square Hammer, the crowd is tangibly nervous. What’s going to happen? Will Cardinal Copia be bumped off for a new, unknown entity? Is this the start of a brand new chapter for Ghost?
The simple answer is: no. Of course they weren’t going to kill him off tonight – there are eight more dates on this tour, in South America and Australia, and the man who has allegedly won the second most Employee Of The Month awards still has some use for the clergy The rumours of Cardinal Copia’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. He lives to dance another day. For now, anyway.
Ghost LA Forum Night 2 Setlist
8. Call Me Little Sunshine
9. Con Clavi Con Dio
10. Watcher In The Sky
11. If You Have Ghosts
13. Year Zero
14. He Is
16. Mary On A Cross
17. Mummy Dust
18. Respite On The Spitalfields
19. Kiss The Go-Goat
20. Dance Macabre
21. Square Hammer