Live Music: Holy Ghost! at the Independent, San Francisco
A sold out crowd mobbed the Independent last Wednesday night to see one of DFA Records’ finest, the nu-disco exclamatory rock band Holy Ghost! Fresh off the completion of a yet to be released new record, the New York City group was noticeably eager to be playing live shows again, and their performance in San Francisco did not disappoint. Well known for creating deeply catchy tunes with all live instrumentation and analog synthesizers, this band is a must see for anyone that is seeking out a very soulful and human dance music experience.
The DJ duo Classixx opened the night with a spaced-out set of multifaceted beats that took on new life in a live setting. Many people were familiar with tracks such as the catchy “I’ll Get You” that continually asks, “Do you like bass?” Of course the audience’s answer was an enthusiastic yes, and heads nodded as bodies dipped and swayed. Michael David picked up a guitar at one point and added some high-pitched accents and solos along to the mix. Classixx was a great choice to open the show, as their chilled out beats were the perfect lead in for the more boisterous Holy Ghost! jams.
During the set change, it was impossible to not notice the impressive amount of gear that Holy Ghost! would be making use of for their show. Roadies buzzed about the stage to prep multiple keyboards, guitars, a whole wall of modular synthesizers, and three different percussion setups. This menagerie was not just for show, as it was awesome to see how Alex Frankel, Nick Millhiser, and the four other talented touring musicians they perform with fluidly switch to new instruments for just about every song they played.
The band revved things up right away with their freshly released single, “Dumb Disco Ideas.” The song built up steadily, using the thick and even bass notes that Millhiser shucked out at the back of the stage as its strong backbone, which successfully riled up the crowd. The band seemed to be slightly distracted with equipment issues at the beginning of the night, but the audience easily overlooked these problems. The mix sounded great and the energy from the drums and triple layered singing on stage covered up issues that were definitely more noticeable to the musicians. Frontman Alex Frankel finally ended up ditching the wireless mic that was giving him trouble and eased into the rhythm of their set. So much of his stage performance is based on jolting the mic stand around to visually accent beats that this was an obviously good move in the first place.
As the night progressed, the audience grew more and more captivated by the music, and were suspended under a kinetic spell that kept them dancing under the bright glowing lights. The set was a great mix of songs that people knew well from the group’s self titled debut album as well as a sneak preview of a good amount of new tracks that left me wanting more. Their new album Dynamics will be out in the fall, so fans will still have to wait a few months to get their hands on it. Frankel hinted that one track they performed would feature Nancy Whang of LCD Soundsystem on the recorded version, which will be exciting to hear as a follow up to their last collaboration, the dark synth soaked cover of Ministry’s “I Wanted to Tell Her.”
Other notable songs of the night included “It’s Not Over,” which featured improvised percussion jams by multiple people on stage in addition to the dedicated drummer. There were no fewer than five cowbells on stage, and they were all being made good use of. “Wait and See” had the entire audience singing the escalating vocals at the climax of the track, which was probably the most energetic moment of the night. It gave the song a new heightened power that could only be experienced at a live show. The pulse of the night slowed during a mesmerizing shadowy performance of “Say My Name,” which featured Frankel on piano. It was great that they included this track for more variety in their set.
Judging from the chants of “Ho-ly Ghost! Ho-ly Ghost!” before the groups encore and the uplifted vibes coming off of everyone around me, I can confidently say that everyone in the room had a thoroughly awesome time. The new album should mean much more touring for the band, so check your area for dates if you want to see a show that you can’t help but become immersed in.