Ghost Light Energized at 5 Points Music Sanctuary
"A ghost light is an electric light that is left energized on the stage of a theater when the theater is unoccupied and would otherwise be completely dark."
When I first heard that Tom Hamilton and Holly Bowling had joined forces to create a highly unique and original improvisational act, I was excited to hear what they could produce but when I caught a live video of their rehearsal, I knew this one would be special. So, I headed down to Roanoke to my favorite venue, 5 Points Music Sanctuary to see my first Ghost Light performance.
Starting slowly and steadily, Ghost Light eased their way into their first song, which included a hard-driving beat and vocal instrumentation. This song would be an untitled jam in D. Tom Hamilton called out "JAM HERE" and what ensued next was a once and a lifetime improvisational evening.
Ghost Lights transitions and improvisation is highly reminiscent of the Dead, as to be expected; it's as though, Tom Hamilton, has studied the Grateful Dead's canon of music at the doctoral level and these jams come straight out of the late 60s, early 70s segues and transitions, but there is more to Ghost Light then that with extremely progressive movements and 80s-90s Alt-Rock phrasing.
Always on the edge and shifting into improvisation, the next song, "Simple Gift Of Man," would again see Hamilton call out "JAM" and the band goes for it, hitting the highest reaches of improvisational atonement and enlightenment possible. This band is on another level from anything I've seen recently, as they peaked into a high-powered, "Tennessee Jed" that was, as good, as I've ever heard. Highly original and vocally provocative they still seem to adhere to the original structure of the song. This cover would extend well past the 20-minute mark, as GL returned into the original D jam and again into "Simple Gift Of Man."
By the time intermission came around I was still trying to figure this band out. I was completely lost when it came to set list schematics and began to look up there song catalog. I always feel like I am getting spoiled at 5 Points with VIP treatment and that's the coolest thing about this venue is that everyone feels like a VIP. There isn't a bad seat in the house! So, to recap the first set: "d jam" into "Simple Gift”>”Tennessee Jed”>”d jam”>”Simple Gift”= Mind blown. Working up Ghost Light set lists is like some sort of physics equation.
The second set begins with Tom Hamilton leading the way, crouching down low as Holly slowly brought up the piano riffs. Tom Hamilton is a constant bandleader, directing the band with excitement and bravado. From fairly hard riffs right into a more reggae sound at the drop of Holly Bowling's hat, GL goes into an almost punk rock sound.
Holly taking up lead vocals in "100 Years Ago" was very reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac, as they all harmonized together. At this point, everything becomes jumbled into one experience and I can't decipher “Isosceles” from “Synth Driver” because Ghost Light only uses these songs as mere outlines for their improvisational performances. They also brought back refrains and teases from the songs played in the previous set.
Hard in all the right places, soft when needed, lots of smiles can be seen onstage and in the crowd. Notes on the other players: Raina Mullens harmony vocals are angelic, Steve Lyons heavy fingers are unique and steady, while Scotty Zwang showed off his skills at various points throughout the evening, proving he is one of the best freelance drummers in the Jam scene today. Together and combined, this band sounded like and eerie cosmic train chugging along an unknown industrial railroad in the dead of night; Tom Hamilton the ghostly conductor on this train to the netherworld, while the rest of the band shovels in the coal. A Ghost Light blares on the tracks ahead. Taking chances and trying something new and unique every time they play. The smile on Toms face says it all during the encore cover of “Head Over Heels” by Tears For Fears; reasserting that 80s vibe I was feeling earlier on.
To say that I was impressed with this show is an understatement. I am extremely happy to put the JBP seal of approval on this group. This performance will remain in my memory like a ghost light shining on well after everyone has left 5 Points Music Sanctuary. I hope Ghost Light continues to perform and showcase their improvisational talents. If you haven't seen this band, do it while you have the chance.
5 out of 5
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Editor: Robert (R.A.) Fadley
Freelance Writer, Musicologist, Music Journalist, Music Critic, Music Writer, Author, Musician, Singer-songwriter, Composer, Guitarist.