Spirit Ghost kicks off first national tour with Calico Blue

By Will Sennott

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(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

Thursday night at the Iron Horse marked a historic point in the careers of two local Amherst bands. Calico Blue sparked the fuse for Spirit Ghost’s explosion into their first ever cross-country tour, which will reach as far as Rock Island, Illinois.

The venue was packed with UMass students, friends and family of the bands, teeming with anticipation to show their support. Spirit Ghost sat among the crowd, indiscreetly at the table closest to the stage. As Calico Blue set foot on stage, they were immediately showered in hometown acclamation.

“We love you Sarah!” echoed through the floor as lead singer Sarah Addi humbly shied away from the center stage mic. Without a word, drummer Billy Hickey led the band into a preluding jam session, giving the audience brief insight as to what was in store.

After a few sincere words of appreciation to the audience, Calico Blue opened their set with “Postman,” the first song they wrote together as freshman while living in the UMass dorm, Van Meter.

Addi’s cavernous voice resonated across the sea of swaying heads, her eyes drifting to the upper balcony. The tension in the song built to the final verse, breaking with an 8 bar riff from guitarist Eli Ayres, revealing the blue side of Calico Blue. As the riff melted into the final chorus, Addi matched Ayres’ energy, improvising the inflection of the traditional Motown jam.

The vivacity of Calico Blue’s set continued to build as John Bergin’s thick bassline led the band into “Annie,” his calico dress flowing with the melody. With Ayres’ use of off-beat triads over Hickey’s loose percussion, Addi was able to display her full vocal range. Each woeful strum of Ayres’ guitar and deep cry from Addi’s chest contradicted the pink lights above, dancing off Hickey’s cymbals with each crash.

Calico Blue followed ‘Annie’ with debut tracks off their unreleased album, hinting at a subtle shift in tonality.

“Sarah’s all about tone,” Ayres explained. In the unreleased songs, her leaden voice seemed to have developed a sharper and more refined timbre. Ayres’ use of the guitar also evolved. He has gone through “20 pedals this year alone, trying to find the right sound.” The new tracks maintain the same sway and reverb, while “sounding a little less dark,” Ayres said. The band is slowly finding their voice and will continue to do so in local shows over the next few months.

As Calico Blue’s set slowly swooned to an end, Spirit Ghost could be found in the basement of the venue, building their energy with a primal pre-show ritual. The band immediately transferred that energy to the stage, kicking off their first cross-country tour with “Broken Glass Kids” from their 2015 album, “Kicking Gravestones.”

Alex Whitelaw, lead singer and sole composer of Spirit Ghost’s music, initiated the song by sliding his pick up the lowest string of his guitar, signaling Andrew Wang into the preluding bassline. A suspenseful pause followed the introduction, breaking with a Whitelaw yelp and Stephen Kerr snare kick. With Kerr’s robotically right-angled elbows and distant eyes, he kept the beat like a soulful machine.

The signature pick slide continued throughout the song, mimicking the distinct hiccup of Whitelaw’s voice. With every reverb heavy power chord, Whitelaw shook his guitar by its neck, pumping every last bit of sound out into the audience.

Against the grain of most live shows, the energy of Spirit Ghost’s set list gradually descended, culminating in the emotional climax of Whitelaw’s repertoire, “The Last Castle Song.” The pain on Whitelaw’s face was illuminated by the lights as he preached his personal tale of the internal departure of love lost. The song faded out in the same resonant way it faded in, leaving only the aching heartbeat of a bassline for a final measure before resolving with a soft cymbal crash.

The band immediately revived their energy with more garage-surf tracks like “Krawn the Destroyer” and “Social Animal” before descending into a hypnotic final song, “Spirit Ghost.” Lead guitarist Mike Cozzo’s rhythmic strum with Whitelaw’s otherworldly howl cast a spell on the audience, too entranced to respond as the song echoed out.

The band was cheered into an encore, joined onstage by Sarah Addi and John Bergin of Calico Blue. All singing into the same microphone, they swayed in time with each other and the audience. Friends and family continued to scale the stage, augmenting the harmonized chorus with endearing roars. As the final chord reverberated through the air of the local concert venue, Spirit Ghost ascended from their title of local band.

Spirit Ghost is now officially on tour, performing six shows on their way out and one on their way back from recording with indie music website Daytrotter in Illinois. The tour will go full circle, culminating with a final outdoor show at The Bowl on Orchard Hill.

Will Sennott can be reached at [email protected]