From The Pit to the Crowd: Ghost – Florida Theatre – Jacksonville FL – December 1st

Driving miles away from Orlando, FL to photograph some of my favorite artists is nothing new for me. This time, it was a trip out to Jacksonville, FL to photograph Ghost during their “A Pale Tour Named Death” tour. The band was in Orlando, FL on Black Friday, but I wasn’t able to make the show. Luckily, I could make this one. And though my drive took me through torrential downpours and lightning in the sky, I got there for a show that was well worth the 2-hour trip.

This tour was specifically using venues more suited for musicals than concerts as there were rows of seats for the attendees and balconies in the majority of the venues. The Florida Theatre was no exception and this particular venue has an amazing history behind it. The manager took a few moments to tell me some of the history of the theater. Of course, the most renown was when The King himself Elvis Presley played there on August 10th and 11th in 1956 and was threatened by Judge Marion Gooding not to perform any of his hip gyrations during any of his performances or he would be arrested. He wasn’t arrested and went on to become one of rock and roll’s greatest icons.

But tonight we were here to witness the Swedish Grammy Award-winning rock band Ghost perform a massive 2 1/2 hour set. Ghost formed in 2006 out of Linkoping, Sweden. The band instantly well-received not only for their music but also for their appearance led by Papa Emeritus (Tobias Forge) and the Nameless Ghouls. The band had released two albums to great acclaim, but it was their third album, ‘Meloria’, that put them more in the limelight. Their single ‘Cirice’ won the Grammy for Best Metal Performance in 2016. Their follow-up EP ‘Popestar’ had the band’s first #1 single with “Square Hammer” on the Billboard Main Stream Rock chart and had over 18 million streams. They went on tour off of Popestar and then opened for Iron Maiden during their 2017 North American tour. The band even released a live album, ‘Ceremony and Devotion’ after their tour. On June 1, 2018, Ghost released their fourth album ‘Prequelle’ and had a new frontman known as Cardinal Copia (still portrayed by Tobias Forge), two Ghoulettes on keyboards, and a saxophonist known as Papa Nihil.

The band started off playing the opening track “Ashes”, an instrumental, as they made their way on-stage. Once all the Namless Ghouls and Ghoulettes were in place, they jumped into “Rats” the first single from ‘Prequelle’ and at that moment, the entire venue was on their feet to rock out with Ghost. Cardinal Copia took to the stage performing the song with his incredible vocals. I admit as a Ghost fan while photographing them, I’m singing along with every word. And I realized so is everyone else in the venue. The crowd was thunderous and you could see Ghost was loving it. They followed up with “Absolution” which is one of my favorite songs from their second album ‘Infesstissumam’. There’s just something about the guitar riffs in this song and the lyrics that absolutely hook me. They followed that with “Idolatrine” from the same album with a few other songs.

Two Nameless Ghouls (white guitar and black guitar) decided to have a guitar duel on stage. After a few back and forths, the Namless Ghoul with the black guitar gave up and walked off. The remaining Namless Ghoul then played the opening riffs to their Grammy Award-winning song, “Cirice” and the crowd went ballastic. The Cardinal encouraged the Jacksonville crowd to sing along during the song. It’s an amazing song as it is and hearing it live is nothing but spectacular. The band followed up with the instrumental “Miasma” from ‘Prequelle’ where Papa Nihil came out to play his saxophone solo. Ghost slowed the pace down a bit doing, the first time for me seeing it, an acoustic version of “Jigolo Har Megiddo” with 3 Nameless Ghouls on guitars. They wrapped up the first set with “Pro Memoria”, “Witch Image”, and “Life Eternal” all from ‘Prequelle’.

And then there was an intermission. Yes, an intermission. 15 minutes for people to go buy more alcohol, merch, use the restroom, etc… It’s the first concert since I saw Rush on the Clockwork Angels tour where a band took an actual intermission. And Ghost wasted no time to get back to it once those 15 minutes were up.

The band actually shocked me when they started up their second set with “Spirit” from ‘Meloria’. It’s not a song I ever heard them play live and it’s a great song. And then hearing that deep bass riff immediately following for “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” had the crowd screaming. It’s one of their heavier songs compared to most of their music. While most of the first half seemed decided to ‘Prequelle’ and ‘Infesstissumam’ this half seemed more dedicated to ‘Meloria’ including “Majesty”, “Year Zero”, and “He Is”, where the whole crowd was screaming “HE IS!” along with the Cardinal during the chorus.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this show outside of the music was Cardinal Copia’s interaction with the crowd. Someone in the front row gave him flowers during the show, which he sniffed adoringly before carefully laying them down by the keyboardists. And he would constantly thank the crowd for being there that Saturday night. But before they moved onto the next song he asked the crowd if they were ready for something heavy. He asked, “Do you want your asses wobbled?”, to which the crowd responded with a resounding cheer. He then asked, “Do you want your taints tickled?”, to which the crowd laughed and then cheered loudly. And then he introduced “Mummy Dust”, which is definitely the heaviest song Ghost plays. The crowd was beyond elated especially when they blew out confetti from the cannons off the side of the stage.

Cardinal Copia said they would be performing a cover song by Roky Erickson called “If You Have Ghosts”. During this time the Cardinal was having some fun introducing all of the band members on stage with him. He was making the crowd laugh with his introduction, especially with the drummer. He was explaining to the crowd if you drew a line down the middle and looked straight up you would see this hole. He then bent straight over so you would be looking directly at his butt and asking, “Do you see the hole?” he turned around and said “Do you see it?” and then realizing people were staring at his butt. “Are you staring at my butthole? How rude!” And then how he explained he meant the hole in the drum bass that has been kicking the crowd’s ass all night. When he introduced the Ghoulettes playing keyboard he explained how they were kept behind a chain fence (a very low chain fence) and while it looked like cheap plastic it was actually the heaviest steel, he was just very strong.

Ghost wrapped up the second set with “Danse Macabre” from ‘Prequelle’ and their #1 single “Square Hammer” from ‘Meloria’. I won’t lie that “Square Hammer” is my absolute favorite song from them. After finishing the band gathered together on stage and took a bow. The lights went down and a few moments later Cardinal Copia came back out under a spotlight. He looked at the crowd and said “Shows over. Go the fuck home.” and then walked away. The crowd laughed and waited. Cardinal Copia came back out again wondering why we were still there and then went into a long story on how he contacted the city leadership of Jacksonville and how he planned on closing the show by having sex with all of the fans at the show that evening. And then realized it wasn’t a good idea because 1) it would get awkward after a while and there wasn’t enough time to get to everyone, 2) there were no street cleaners during that time and it would get messy, and 3) IT WAS ILLEGAL! The crowd all had a good laugh and instead, he said they would do a fake closing and then come back out and do another song. So Ghost did what they always do and encored with “Monstrance Clock” from ‘Infestissumam’, which I love. The song plays out to the end as the group walks off stage saying goodbye one at the time until the curtain falls.

Once again, Ghost provided the fans a phenomenal performance. I absolutely loved the fact they decided to play a two-set show and their selection of songs was nothing less of perfect. The show was rocking, it was entertaining, and it was comedic. It’s a show I would absolutely go to over and over again. I absolutely look forward to the next time Ghost comes to Jacksonville, or Orlando, or even Tampa. Either way, I wouldn’t miss them for the world.