(Live Review) GHOST + AMON AMARTH - Huntington Beach Arena, Chicago (8/15/23)
The Beard & Little Johnny
Today, it is a “team effort” for event #48 and bands #222-223 on the yearlong The Reviews Never Stop Tour 2023. Not only will it be The Beard and Little Johnny, but we are bringing our security force Greg “The Total Package” Hulke (who at 300 pounds of beef will excel at making sure The Beard remains upright at tonight’s event) and his friend “Evil Steve.”
This evening, we will be covering satanic “pop rock” act Ghost along with special guests the Viking metal of Amon Amarth.
As no building could contain these two bands, this evening’s event is being held at The Huntington Bank outdoor arena right on the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago. To fully avail ourselves of this opportunity, The Beard and Little Johnny are having a late lunch/early dinner at a southside famous Italian place called Flo and Santos. Great pizza, sandwiches and beers. The Beard is going with an Italian Beef Calzone with an Apple Blueberry Cider, while Johnny opted for the Italian sub with tots as his side and a hazy IPA. He says he’s carbing up for Amon Amarth. Music at Flo & Santos is classic rock Rainbow, Robert Plant, KISS etc. Nice vibe on a beautiful 74-degree summer afternoon.
After eating, we walked the rest of the way to the arena. Slowly, but steadily, our walking group got larger as more Ghost and Amon Amarth fans joined the trek to the gates. Corpse painted faces, and Nun-habit wearing ladies merged with Viking clad men and even a few women. All of us, sporting degrees of black shirts and Metal adornments, melded together on our journey across Michigan avenue. and past the iconic Chicago Shedd Aquarium and Field Museum. To the regular Chicago tourists, we must have seemed a sight. To us, it was simply merging with our people.
Openers, Amon Amarth (named after the Elvish term for Mount Doom in J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous novel The Lord of the Rings), have been doing their Viking metal act since 1992, (although their first release wasn’t until 1998), and are practiced pros at it. Having released a dozen albums, (the last being The Great Heathen Army” from 2022). Amon Amarth use a myriad of special effects in their stage shows including sword battles, Nordic Gods and statues and even having an entire Viking galley right on stage with them. The Beard has watched lead singer Johan Hegg battle giant animatronic sea monsters and other craziness in the four times I’ve seen them previous. Johnny has heard the tales and is very excited about both their music and the show.
The Viking warriors came out precisely at 7:30pm and ripped right into “Ravens Flight” and “Shield Wall” (complete with an axe wielding warrior at stage left), before speaking their first words to the crowd. After a hearty Viking greeting, Hegg introduced, (and requested crowd participation for), the first song of the evening about a goat “Heidrun”.
A song about a goat? How can The Beard not enjoy that? And this particular goat, (in Norse mythology), is the one that supplies mead to the Gods, so The Beard is a staunch supporter of such a goat.
The next song, “Deceiver of the Gods” was about Norse (and Marvel Avengers) bad guy Loki. This song also featured a well done glowing eyed spear wielding Loki to give battle to Hegg. Johnny is getting both a mythology lesson and a show. During “Put your Back into the Oars”, the crowd sat and emulated a group roaring a galley. A cool contrast to the usual mosh pit. Johnny watched and participated with around 5000 people pretending to row a giant ship and declared “That was Great!”
“The Way of the Viking” and “Guardians of Asgaard” ramped up the event with a favorable crowd raucously drinking and singing. The two ladies to our left toasted The Beard & Johnny in a clanking of Mead goblets. (Okay it was actually Beer cans, but my example sounds much cooler).
After the anthemic song “Raise your Horns” Johnny now wants that as our new anthem. Uhh…I think we will have a copyright infringement issues little dude. On Amon Amarth’s final number “Twilight of the Thunder God”, Hegg emerged with the mighty hammer of Thor and when Johnny got to see Hegg battle an absolutely enormous Midgard Serpent with it, he just looked at me and said, “Coolest thing this year.”
The Beard raises his own horns and cracks a cold one for Amon Amarth 90/100.
Headliner Ghost has only been around about a dozen years, (releasing their debut album in 2010), but in that time have become one of the more famous acts touring. Known as much for their elaborate stage show and mysterious backstory as their music, Ghost never names their musicians (who are always masked) referring to them only as The Nameless Ghouls. The band is fronted by an Evil Pope like character referred to as Papa Emeritus. (This current incarnation is Papa Emeritus IV).
Ghosts’ music is hard to define. Ultra Satanic lyrics akin to black metal but encased in a music that has been termed by various critics and reviews as pop rock, soft doom, progressive, and sometimes just classic rock. Their lyrical content has occasionally caused issues despite the bands winning Grammys in both the US and Sweden (their home country) and having multiple top 10 albums across the world.
They seem to engender converts wherever they go and people who were sure they would never like Ghost invariably end up leaving the shown singing their numbers. If one DID want to advance a Satanic agenda, what Ghost does is a pretty ingenious way to go about it. Wrap the poison in some tasty candy.
On this tour the Nameless Ghouls were clad in full gas mask-like regalia looking a bit like evil undersea bell divers. As always, the set is adorned to resemble an evil church with stained glass windows depicting various past Papa Emeritus members and the background music is chanting hymn-like in its nature.
Papa emerged with his almost Joker like corpse paint and launched into newer hit “Kaisarion”, followed by the slightly older “Rats”, and long-standing hit “From the Pinnacle to the Pit”.
By this time the crowd is already fully invested, and Papa is in very good voice this evening. The Ghouls likewise are playing excellent tonight although how they can see in those full gas mask like headpieces is beyond me. “Spillways” was to follow before the grammy winning “Circe”. “Absolution” and “Ritual” were next and by “Little Sunshine” The Beard had to admit the subtle brilliance of Ghost.
These are sing-a-longs about Lucifer, Human Sacrifice, Spirit Possession, and selling your soul that sticks in your mind like an evil earworm. Actually, reading the lyrics to these songs would chill any parent, yet the songs are catchy. They seep in and just sort of stay with you. Exactly like infestation, to oppression to possession. Bit by bit your soul isn’t stolen, it’s given away freely. Devilishly clever.
“Con Clavi Con Dio”, and “Watcher in the Sky” were more subtle jabs feverishly shouted by the crowd, many in full face paint regalia and some in nuns and priests’ outfits, (or even the same outfits that The Nameless Ghouls were wearing). This was the Ghost congregation.
Papa Emeritus was perhaps at his most creepy during “Year Zero” with the stage a mesh of red lights and fire. Papa strode about like the Devil himself, with headgear to match, as the ghouls played the part of the musical demons. This was an excellent number in both production and execution. “He is” was more a benediction than a song. This could have been a Christian hymn except the crowd sang and shouted it louder than any church service the Beard has ever witnessed, and of course it was meant for the Devil.
During “Miasma”, Emeritus raised the dead Papa Nihil so that he could play the saxophone solo to crowd adulation.
Although The Beard wasn’t familiar with the song “Mary on the Cross”, the crowd sure was. Hugely loud accompaniment and another success. This set has had a lot of them nonstop. Very well put together.
The Beard did think the longer and slower “Respite on the Spitlefields” was an odd choice as the initial set closer, but maybe it was a pallet cleanser for the encore. A few minutes after leaving the stage, Emeritus reappeared in something akin to a sequined smoking jacket and announced he was already halfway to the car when someone said that nobody had left, and they were all just standing there like idiots. He asked if they wanted one more song. Then he asked if they wanted two more. Finally, he agreed upon three more songs to an applauding mass of yelling fans.
Encore included “Kiss the Go-Goat” (Our second goat song of the evening), before monster sing-a-longs “Dance Macabre” and of course the truly closer “Square Hammer.” Now, The Beard has been to a few concerts this year, and even on the biggest hits, when the band is playing, they have the volume to play over the crowd. The choruses to “Square Hammer” might have been the single exception to this.
Papa Emeritus did not need to sing on the choruses as anywhere in a mile radius any direction, Chicago got treated to a VERY loud, “Are you on the square? Are you on the level? Are you ready to swear right here right now for The Devil.” Once again, the subtle brilliance of Ghost and their catchy yet blatantly evil lyrical content. This was, in production, music, vocals, lights, and subtle (yet open) Satanic conversion, one of the most perfectly executed sets of the entire year.
The Beard not only cracks a cold one but grabs from the private label rare stock and salutes Papa Emeritus and the Nameless Ghouls of Ghost with a year leading 98/100. This was virtually perfect in all that it tried to do.
Now, this may wrap up the review and the evening, but the year rolls on and The Beard and Johnny are rolling with it. We will both be right back out there again with another show and several more bands. The Reviews Never Stop until 2023 itself does. So be sure to read us every Wednesday & Thursday on your home for Metal, The Mighty Decibel and check out all the videos on our TikTok page by searching.
Thebeard0728 or #thebeardandlittlejohnny.
Until next time