Gig review: Ghost at First Direct Arena, Leeds

“Good evening Yorkshire!” hollers Ghost frontman Cardinal Copia, leaning off the front of the stage at Leeds’s First Direct Arena. “Do you want to have your toes tickled?” A roar is conjured from around the venue. He punches the air.

Ghost at First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Mick Burgess
Ghost at First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Mick Burgess

“Do you want to have them tickled by ME?!” The whole place erupts in the affirmative. There is no physical altar to bow at, but this unholy servant more than makes do without one.

The Cardinal, of course, is Swedish singer-songwriter Tobias Forge, who has cloaked himself in numerous, quasi-papal identities over the course of the band’s heady rise to rock’s upper leagues.

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On this, their first worldwide arena headline tour, they have finally cracked the big time, after a decade of tough sweat and hard work. Forge, an avowed fan of Iron Maiden’s theatrical productions, has been gifted the expanse to truly let his imagination run free; as a man whose brand of musical craft melds heavy metal and prog chops to unexpectedly deft pop melodies, he is a worthy, shiny successor to the London godfathers.

Ghost at First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Mick Burgess

This performance closes out a British run of dates that fittingly, on the cusp of the Christmas season, play out with full pantomime glee.

Ghost’s band of Nameless Ghouls – the musicians who surround Forge are all decked in black with horned silver masks, sworn to anonymity – trade guitar solos with he’s-behind-you glee. One, on the brutish wall-of-sound effort Mummy Dust, wields a keytar with high-camp seduction.

The outstanding jam Miasma sees the honest-to-god Pope, in sunglasses no less, crash through the back of the black-and-white chequerboard set to blare the most outrageous punch of saxophone since Ted Crilly penned My Lovely Horse. It is outrageously daft and gleefully infectious.

So much of Ghost’s appeal comes down to Forge – himself only revealed when a lawsuit named him as the band’s driving force a few years ago – and his ability as both writer and performer.

Ghost at First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Mick Burgess

Brilliant tracks like the doom-laden Cirice, the cod-monk chants of Year Zero, the Abba-esque disco-floorfiller of Dance Macabre; they all owe themselves to both his wonderful ear for melody and his way with a crowd.

He cycles in and out on a rusty tricycle, and speaks like a caddish dandy; Dick Dastardly, decked out in crushed velvet.

He closes out with the brilliant Square Hammer, with a kiss to his devotees; as master of ceremonies over this dementedly enjoyable shindig, he is a priest of the highest order.

Ghost at First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Mick Burgess