The loud. loyal music lovers and Ghost Light fans who stayed til’ the end on November 17th at Higher Ground had their patience rewarded. The band offered a rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” that packed a wallop the likes of which the band had feigned but never delivered in the previous two hours plus.
By the time the quintet was done, it was moot whether these galvanizing moments were the inevitable conclusion of the two previous sets. Their offering of the Jerry Garcia Band arrangement of the Dylan classic not only acknowledged but transcended the influences with which Ghost Light had so tantalized the crowd in the early going. And, it was little surprise that, while this final ascendance was a shared effort, it was keyboardist Holly Bowling who supplied the final boost: her rippling, gospel-inflected piano solo brought to mind the potential for reimaginings of the Dylan songbook, but more importantly reminded how she had repeatedly galvanized the band’s resources throughout the evening.
Ghost Light has trumpeted themselves as a collaboration and based on this show, the common denominator would appear to be the willingness to share ideas so the group deserves kudos for their courage on that point alone. Interestingly, they relied on covers rather than their own self-composed material much of the concert, choices ranging from disparate sources such as Radiohead and The Kinks, as well as first-time played tunes and selections from guitarists Tom Hamilton and Raina Mullen’s band American Babies.
All of which in the end, intentionally or not, revolved around the innate musicality Bowling lent to the selections such as “Living On A Thin Line.” Through the course of an often-static first set and equally so as the group gained momentum in the second, the woman’s playing either crystallized direction for the group or provided a backdrop that rendered logical what the other four were doing at the time. It’s no coincidence that, as the night went on, the other members of the band, as often as not beginning with bassist Steve Lyons and drummer Scotty Zwang, looked to their left, across the stage, as much in admiration as seeking for inspiration.
It may also be why as the audience count dwindled toward midnight(almost drastically down from 150 people max at start time), those remaining crowded the stage. Largely ambient sounds emanated from Ghost Light during the only going, which only lent to the increasingly loud volume of conversation as the set progressed (contrary to Hamilton’s wry advisory before beginning to play). But just as the musicianship solidified when Bowling asserted herself, mostly on acoustic piano but also on its electric counterpart as well as organ and synthesizer, so did the motion on the floor metamorphose: tentative dance moves turned fluid even in her shortest stints at the forefront (duly observed as such by a wag in the crowd: “Look at people move when she plays!?).
Accordingly, it all made sense that, when Ghost Light headed for some genuine intensity in the second half of the concert—perhaps not coincidentally at the outset of their original “Doorway to A Silent Chamber”–it was the increasingly high volume of jagged synth lines Bowling unleashed that prodded Hamilton to play with some force and purpose: prior to that he often seemed lost for ideas, repeating progressions over and over, rather than engage in the fundamental ‘variation on a theme’ concept that seems to come so naturally to his classically-trained bandmate; intentionally or not, the former member of Brothers Past relied on his debt to Live/Dead era Garcia to distinguish his playing (Mullen served ably as the idiosyncratic instrumental foil, a la Bob Weir).
More than once in the first hour plus, the fivesome seemed poised to break into the iconic band’s “Dark Star.” And “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling’ Bad” seemed right in the offing toward second set’s conclusion, while the aforementioned closing tune of the Nobel Laureate’s sounded like nothing so much as “Bertha” before it turned into the classic from Blood on the Tracks. So, if Ghost Light relies on an admirable collective concept, it’s shortcoming would seem to be a reticence for individuals to assume the lead and take some chances.
Bowling is to be commended for deferring to her bandmates more often than not, but at least in this tour stop in Burlington, it was all too obvious how the music gains clarity, almost instantaneously, when she steps to the forefront: it would stand to reason more such instances by everyone in the ensemble, should only benefit their performances
But, again, to their great credit, Ghost Light should be commended for taking their time on stage to invoke the muse. At least this Saturday night, the payoff(s) arising from the time-consuming search for common threads arrived when the night was just about over, which is perhaps as it should be (and certainly generated a certain element of suspense!). It’s fortunate indeed that some apparent back and forth by the venue’s production staff, causing house lights to go up and down more than once before it was all over, ultimately fell in favor of a passionate piece of music relished by everyone still in the room near one am.
Live photos courtesy Ross Mickel Bootleggers Beware
Ghost Light Setlist Nov 17, 2018
- Best Kept Secret >
- Living on a Thin Line >
- Streets of Brooklyn >
- Living on a Thin Line (reprise)
- Boy >
- Isosceles >
- Doorway to a Silent Chamber >
- Diamond Eyes >Black Star
- Weight of the World
- Old Fashioned
- Encore: Tangled Up in Blue