For sure, it was going to happen again. Tom Hamilton’s glasses were going to fall off. Twice already the power of the jam had taken over. Twice, the music’s groovy grasp had liberated the guitarist’s eyewear from their proper facial place. Deep into Ghost Light’s two-and-a-half hour performance, Hamilton wasn’t taking any more chances.
It was only the second show ever for the quintet bookended by Hamilton and keyboardist Holly Bowling, but it arrived teeming with tunes capable of jarring anything, or anyone, loose. Following a debut in San Diego the night before- and video clips working their way viral- the small Los Angeles club was crammed with the anticipating and eager. Ghost Light delivered.
These are the earliest of days for the newborn group; some songs on the setlist were identified with mnemonic cues (“D Riff,” “A Major Jam”) than actual titles. Onstage, Hamilton, when not singing, turned himself to keep both eyes on his mates. Beaming, he directed with gestures and shouts on arrangements still fresh to the five. The line between what was being improvised and what was composed was virtually indiscernible to the spinning and bobbing crowd.
The music, itself, was group-driven. Even with structures that patterned around short vocal verses, a guitar and keys middle crescendo, return to a chorus, then a dissolve into more improv or next number, each of the five consistently had something to the offer the conversations. Hamilton is player pushing excitement; his solos jibe and tack, holding a repeated phrase, swelling and receding in volume and rapidity, often peaking with a screaming release. Bowling is a fitting counterpart; her comping chords rhythmic and provocative, marking changes tightly with bassist Steve Lyons; her soloing ebullient and relaxed.
The first entry, “Tarantino,” was the inhale: a short instrumental hanging on twin-guitar harmony lines from Hamilton and guitarist/singer Raina Mullen (who, along with drummer Scotty Zwang arrived on the West Coast but a few days earlier following a cross-country trek from Philly in the band van). The second song, a deep exhale, and soon after, on the fourth- Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue”- the smiling Hamilton and his glasses parted ways a first time.
It was one of the two covers rounding out the repertoire, cribbing the background vocal arrangement of the chorus from the Jerry Garcia Band, leaning on the Grateful Dead connection. The other, a lively romp through the Dead’s “Brown-Eyed Women,” that felt so refreshing executed at a near new-wave pace. Most of the show followed suit, with tempos and angular shifts as much progressive as they were comfortably cool.
Two hours in and Hamilton was recommending locking the doors and battening down as a rain storm rolled in to the area. They’d play all night, he said. Into a lengthy stretch they went, the five down another wondrous rabbit hole. Yet, this time, this jam, Hamilton learned. As the cascades of notes built, the smile peeled back, the head bobbed forward, with a quick touch he pressed the specs back into place just before another fall.
It’s two shows in, and Ghost Light is learning fast. This is going to be a wild ride. Hang on to those glasses.