Ghost Light performs at Wild Buffalo House of Music on Dec. 8, 2022. (Photo by Mark Caicedo)
Jam bands get a bad rap. Accused of pointless instrumental noodling, in the minds of some they’re relegated to that narrow category of wannabe Grateful Dead-like bands and, as a result, are unfairly pigeonholed into a certain class of music. At Bellingham’s Wild Buffalo House of Music recently, Ghost Light destroyed the myth of the one-dimensional jam band with its virtuosity in just about every major musical genre: rock, blues, classical, jazz, funk, all seamlessly melding together with an accessible pop sensibility.
Ghost Light came into being in 2017. Tom Hamilton Jr., from Joe Russo’s Almost Dead (JRAD) and his own musical project, American Babies, recalls, “Raina [Mullen] had joined during the making of the last [American Babies] album and we had met Holly [Bowling] during that tour, having her sit in on a few shows. Ultimately, I needed a change and started putting together a new band in the spring of 2017. By late summer of 2017 I had the band, and full team assembled but one thing was missing. There was no music, yet.”
Within months, Ghost Light had filled out to include Steve Lyons (bass) and Scotty Zwang (drums). By the end of 2017 Mullen and Hamilton had written (facilitated by a “a shit load of LSD”) an album’s worth of material. The initial sessions in Hamilton’s Philadelphia studio in December 2017 confirmed the band’s chemistry. Following a year of touring, the band’s debut album, Best Kept Secrets, was released in early 2019.
Fast forward through 2019 to a pandemic that wreaked havoc on touring bands, venues, and of course, countless lives and livelihoods. Ghost Light’s sophomore effort, The Healing (Royal Potato Family) was conceived and recorded as a response to the pandemic years: “the Covid times allowed me to have an emotional reckoning with myself, relationships, childhood, and my vocation,” says Hamilton, “The story is less the fallout as it is the recovery. Sticking with it. Staying the course in the face of adversity, uncomfortable conversations or situations. The path to health and healing is often not the path of least resistance but the path of perseverance and doing the work.”
Stream The Healing by Ghost Light on Spotify.
Within the context of Ghost Light’s “healing,” both the album and the band’s return to the stage has begun to take shpe over the last few months. After nearly two years in lockdown (an eternity for musicians who thrive on live performance), 2022 has seen Hamilton and company returning to the stage touring in support of the new album (released in October 2022) — including this show at Wild Buffalo on Dec. 8.
Ghost Light’s current line-up: Tom Hamilton, Jr. (guitar, lead vocals), Raina Mullen (guitar, lead vocals), Holly Bowling (keys, backing vocals), Scotty Zwang (drums), and Taylor Shell (bass). The band hit the stage at 9:15pm and didn’t stop (except for a quick set break) until nearly midnight. The Wild Buffalo’s spacious, airy music room was perfect for the sound, and dancing! With the band obviously having an “on” night, everybody in the packed house couldn’t help but move their feet.
Watch the official music video for “Take Some Time” by Ghost Light on YouTube.
Opening the show with an epic jam, “Old Time Religion” into “Don’t Come Apart” and closing with Best Kept Secrets’ “Isosceles” soon had the crowd up and dancing. As I mentioned earlier, Ghost Light possesses a pop sensibility that informs its songs with upbeat melodies, catchy choruses, and relatable lyrics (Take some time just a little bit longer, hear me out like the lightning and the thunder, take some time, why don’t you take some time). The set continued with a pair of songs from the new album: “Take Some Time” and “Faces in the Moon” combined a multitude of influences: McVie/Nicks era Fleetwood Mac, Hamilton’s REM-like mandolin while Mullen’s soaring vocals are a cross between Kate Bush and Annie Haslam from Renaissance.
Perhaps progrock isn’t as fashionable as it was in the 1970s, but Ghost Light’s players have the virtuosity and creativity of that era’s greatest musicians: Yes, ELP, Rush, among many others. An extended “Streets of Brooklyn” brought the hour long first set to a close in grand style.
Check out Ghost Light’s stellar improvisation skills on this YouTube clip.
The band reappeared 15 minutes later opening with “Dig a Hole” into “Boy.” In fact, the entire second set felt like one long song, the dancing audience supplying an endless source of energy for the musicians onstage. With the crowd lapping up every note and beat, Ghost Light launched into both Type I and II jams that saw the band musically exploring the songs’ written notes and tempo (Type I), but then varying melody, theme, structure and key to embark on Type II excursions.
After closing out the second set with a thrilling “Fever Dreams” the band quickly came back for the evening’s only encore, “The Healing,” its bluesy, energetic vocals recalling Sam Brown’s phenomenal performance of “Horse to the Water” at the Concert for George.
Old Time Religion (American Babies)>
Don’t Come Apart
Take Some Time
Faces in the Moon >
Streets of Brooklyn (American Babies)
Dig a Hole
Boy (Brothers Past)
What Does It Mean to Be (American Babies)
Keep Your Hands to Yourself
Joeline (American Babies)
Fever Dreams (American Babies)
E: The Healing
A ghost light is traditionally a single bulb left on in a theatre after hours to appease or (as some say) drive away the ghosts that haunt the boards after cast, crew, and audience have left. After the last few years of medical, financial, and psychic pain, finding that beacon of hope in formerly deserted theatres is an apt metaphor for live music performance making its way back into our lives. Ghost Light’s Thursday night performance shone that light on a deeply appreciative audience.
Ghost Light has a few more West Coast dates planned for this year, but if you can’t make it check the website for more gigs, music, and information in 2023.
Here are a few more images from Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022, at the Wild Buffalo. All photos courtesy and copyright Mark Caicedo.