Saturday Night: Holy Ghost! at The Vagabond

Holy Ghost
Saturday, December 13, 2008
The Vagabond, Miami

Better than: 100% of the godless ultra-commercial dance crap polluting the Beach. 

It's past midnight and I'm at the Vagabond sipping my whiskey straight and waiting for Holy Ghost! to start their DJ set in the main room. It's my first time seeing these NYC newcomers and I have mixed expectations because of my ambivalence towards their label, DFA Records. I dig their disco-mongering label mates The Juan Maclean and Hercules & Love Affair, the latter which burned up this very dancefloor in September (on the night of my birthday, in fact). Not a big fan of DFA founder James Murphy's band LCD Soundsystem and some of their other artists though, truth be told. But I've checked out the Ghost's music and I have a good feeling about this. I'm impressed with their melodic songcraft and rich analog sound. These ain't no cookie-cutter laptop beats, they use live instrumentation and studio production and the difference is remarkable.

Unabashed funk goodness seems to be the norm at this venue on Saturday nights, with golden oldies by the likes of James Brown and Earth Wind & Fire on shuffle in the patio and anything from Off The Wall-era Michael Jackson to Aretha Franklin in the front room. The patrons revel and writhe unashamed in their nostalgia for a time when dancing was good un-ironic fun and won't refrain from cheers and singalongs when those most recognizable classics hit the speakers. As soon as the excruciatingly overplayed The Outfield's "Your Love" comes crashing down, followed by Bon Jovi's "Shot Through the Heart" I am in dire need of fresh sound and make my way over to "Bamby's lair."

A curious sight unfolds on one of the side platforms during the half hour before Holy Ghost! hits the decks. Two statuesque brunettes in white virginal bridal gowns swoon beneath a white-clad pimped-out disco Jesus, complete with long hair and beard, crown of thorns and red wine sacrament. "Thug Jesus" a.k.a. David, is a performance artist with Back Door Bamby contributing this night's christian iconographic theme. I have a chance to chat with him and one of the brides, the striking Nicole Soden, who has been producing Bamby's conceptual nightlife projects since its inception. Nicole and I have a brief and enlightening conversation about religious themes in electronic dance music. I ask her if she sees a new trend in christian motifs, what with Justice's gleaming cross and Old Testament song titles, and now "Holy Ghost!" She believes that electronic dance has been a spiritual communal experience for people since the very beginning. People coming together to feel uplifted and transcend, albeit on ecstasy for some. A new religion for our cynical times?

Now I'm feeling inspired and ready to worship at the temple of disco, so I'm waiting for the Ghost to kick off their set and "bring us closer to our higher power," as was promised on their Facebook event page. What ensues is not quite so epic, but still pretty damn lively. The duo cruises through a tasteful selection of deep house grooves and disco-inflected electro, including the soulful breakout hit "Hold On." People are dancing and indulging, but the dancefloor, for the most part, is nowhere near capacity. Most Vagabond patrons I suspect are still in the front room rocking out to '80s cheese and missing out on this higher calling. It's a shame. We the faithful, however, stick around and are saved for the night.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: I'm an agnostic disco-lover, with no catholic guilt to shed over this pleasure.

Random Detail: The Marvin Gaye-lookalike in a black priest's robe, '70s pimp hat and gold pentagram necklace, walking around the club. I never found out if he was part of Bamby's troupe or just another colorful downtown character. I guess it's that blurring of the line between performance art and real life that gives these nights their special surreal atmosphere.

By The Way: kudos to the establishment on this and past bookings, they continue to provide downtown with much needed respite from the musical stagnancy of SoBe. Keep it up!

-- Sean Levisman

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Sean Levisman