Friday, November 11, 2016

Ghost @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre

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       Ghost is a 6-piece heavy metal band formed in Sweden in 2008. Their 2010 debut album Opus Eponymous was widely praised and since then, the band has swiftly gained popularity throughout Europe and North America. Their most recent albums, Infestissumam (2013) and Meliora (2015) reached number one in Sweden and 'Cirice', the lead single off Meliora, earned them an award for Best Metal Performance at this year's Grammys. Earlier this fall, they released a 5-song EP Popestar, meant to serve as an extension to Meliora. The EP features mostly covers of bands including Echo and the Bunnymen and Eurythmics, along with one original, the lead single 'Square Hammer'. They are currently finishing up the North American leg of the Popestar Tour, before heading back to Europe where they will begin recording a new album early next year. We were lucky enough to catch their sold out show in Toronto this week at Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

       The show started at around 8pm with opening act Marissa Nadler. The gothic folk musician from Boston has joined Ghost on tour since October. While she has a very different style from the headliner, her performance complemented it nicely. Accompanied by another guitarist, Marissa stood in the center of the dimly lit stage, surrounded by smoke and delivered her quiet, ethereal songs with only an electric guitar and her hauntingly beautiful voice. The music was closer to dream pop than hard rock or heavy metal, but she showed off her talent for finger-picking and played searing guitar solos with a tone reminiscent of Slash's Les Paul. About half of the audience were still hanging out in the bar and lobby during her performance, which is unfortunate because she played a great set that included stripped-down, dreamy covers of metal pioneers Black Sabbath and Danzig.
       After a brief intermission, the theater started to fill up with a sea of black band t-shirts and leather jackets. Diehard fans wore skull face paint to emulate their hero, lead singer Papa Emeritus III, and one even had the full papal miter and robe. The anticipation was building and the atmosphere felt more like a grandiose cathedral as the sounds of Allegri's 'Miserere Mei, Deus' and Jocelyn Pook's 'Masked Ball' poured over the loudspeaker. Screams of ecstasy rang out and metal horns shot into the air as the lights went down, signaling that the ritual was about to begin. Everyone jumped to their feet as the Nameless Ghouls appeared, all dressed in matching black suits emblazoned with the elemental symbols they are known by and silver horned masks. Papa was in full costume and kicked off the theatrical performance with 'Square Hammer' and the epic headbanger 'From the Pinnacle to the Pit'. 
      The whole room was in the palm of his hand as he incited cheers and screams with just a motion of his fingers. Striding back and forth the stage, making wide, sweeping hand gestures, Papa is a showman of the first degree and kept the audience engaged like a preacher at a tent revival show. After a few songs, he introduced two nuns, the night's "sisters of sin" and condemned them to the pits and aisles to interact with the crowd. He left the stage briefly for a quick costume change and returned wearing a more casual gothic-style tuxedo. The show continued on as the band played songs spanning their three albums and there wasn't a dull moment in the entire set. Unlike most metal shows, there were no hair windmills, screams or headbanging; the Ghouls wandered around the stage, occasionally stepping up onto the monitors and making their soaring guitar licks look effortless. They are all excellent musicians and a very tight band and Dave Grohl is even rumoured to have dressed up and secretly drummed with them. Papa took a few breaks between songs to make stage banter and made a point of expressing his distaste for the results of the American Election the night before. 
     They finished the set with the song 'Ritual' from their debut album and the Ghouls stood out front of the stage taking a bow like actors in a play. An audience member handed Papa Emeritus a bouquet of roses and before he even made it off the stage the crowd was chanting for one more song. He took a sip of water and said "You think we are done? You think we would leave you with a shit ending like that?" The band doesn't take themselves too seriously. He then launched into a sermon about the wonders of the female orgasm, comparing the show to a long night of love-making and had a heart to heart with a fan in the front row who was having their "first time". The Ghouls returned for the encore, the inn-chocked 'Monstrous Clock' off their second album, which they always use to finish the show. The crowd were certainly leaving satisfied that night. Their North American tour ends in Brooklyn tomorrow night, but if you get the chance to see them in the future, definitely take it! Even if you aren't a metal fan, their music is pretty accessible and light for the genre, maybe even closer to hard rock in the vein of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Either way, the theatrical aspect of the performance and energy of the crowd alone is enough to make it worthwhile.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Grouplove @ The Danforth Music Hall

The Band: Hannah Hooper (vocals, keyboards), Christian Zucconi (vocals, guitar), Sean Gadd (bass), Andrew Wessen (guitar, vocals), and Ryan Rabin (drums)


       California indie-rock band Grouplove are touring in support of their latest album 'Big Mess', released on September 9th on Canvasback/Atlantic. MUNA and Dilly Dally have been joining them on the North American leg of the tour, which has been regularly selling out for good reason. On Sunday, October 30th, they made a stop in Toronto to perform at the Danforth Music Hall.
       Toronto alt-rockers Dilly Dally kicked off the night just before 8:00pm and the room was packed early for the hometown band. Playing mostly songs from their debut album 'Sore', which was released last year to critical acclaim on the aptly-named Buzz Records. I've seen the band a few times before and they always put on a great show. Closing the set with their two singles 'The Touch' and 'Desire', their heavy, 90's throwback vibe was a great complement to the punkier side of Grouplove.
       Next up were fellow Los Angeles pop-rockers MUNA, who released their debut 'The Loudspeaker EP' on RCA Records this past May. The 5-piece warmed up the room with a high energy set of danceable synthpop jams that couldn't help but get the crowd moving. Every member of the band was even dancing wildly on stage throughout the whole performance. Things got a bit emotional near the end when they announced it would be their final show with their bass player and then played some new songs before giving up the stage to Grouplove. 
       With about a half hour break between sets, the crowd was ready to see the headliner. The band appeared one by one on the dimly lit stage and got things rolling with the song 'I'm With You' off their second album 'Spreading Rumours'. It was a great choice to open with since it starts out slow but picks up speed about midsong. They continued with some tracks from their latest album 'Big Mess' peppered with early classics like 'Itchin' on a Photograph' and 'Tongue Tied'. These sent the audience into a mad frenzy. The band had a lot of energy, with lead vocalists Hannah and Christian dancing and bouncing around the stage constantly. During the third song, Christian walked out to the edge of the stage and let himself fall backwards into the crowd for a brief stage dive before being abruptly rescued by security. Later on, Hannah ventured a little further to sing half of a song from the middle of the audience floor. The band seemed to be having a great time and they made a point of noting how excited they were to be back and playing their "biggest show ever in Toronto."
       The light show and backdrop were amazing, with multiple variations ranging from big flashing strobe lights to just a few beaded strings of lights hanging over the backdrop. The audience were engaged at every moment and vigorously waving their hands in perfect unison during their biggest hits. The band played a fantastic cover of the Beastie Boys' 'Sabotage'  before finishing the set with their latest single 'Welcome To Your Life'. They walked offstage, but not a single audience member turned to leave, as ethereal ambient music droned on beneath the crowd's chanting "GROUP! LOVE! GROUP! LOVE!" Finally, Christian returned alone and sat centre stage with his acoustic guitar and began a solo rendition of 'Enlighten Me'. The band joined him to finish the song and played two of their biggest singles 'Ways To Go' and 'Colours' for a satisfying three-song encore. Overall, it was a great show and Grouplove are definitely worth checking out the next time they pass through Toronto. 

'Big Mess' is out now on Canvasback/Atlantic Records. 

Check out our previous profile of Grouplove here.