A ghost descends on to the stage. He is a singing ghost, his warble rivaling the cries of a wounded hound-dog. Standing next to the ghost, strumming acoustic guitars are Ryan Gosling and Zach Shields. The two are wearing matching outfits: black pants, white button-down, black-vest, neatly combed hair. They are gentlemanly grave-diggers, humoring the sensitive ghost (a man under a white sheet) before he exits the stage and returns to the grave. For clarification, the Ryan standing next to the ghost is Ryan “OMG he’s so hot. He starred in The Notebook.” Gosling. He and his band, Dead Man’s Bones, are playing New York’s Le Poisson Rouge. But this Ryan Gosling is not here to break your heart, as he did during his film days; this time, he’s come for your soul.
Gosling summons a skeletal children’s church choir to the stage. Their faces are painted white, hollow black holes surrounding their eyes. Pinned to their white cloaks are little black, felt hearts. Shields starts strumming the guitar, the drums kick in, and Ryan Gosling begins pacing the stage. His arms are folded and he looks nervous walking back and forth. “OMG he’s so HOT,” someone whispers. Ryan turns to the choir and they start singing an eerie doo-wop melody; he focuses on them, mouthing the words, smiling as he cheers them on like a glee coach. Ryan Gosling is hot.
Dead Man’s Bones start clapping, the children follow their rhythm and Shields starts hitting away at a supplemental percussion setup at the front of the stage. Gosling mans the piano and starts singing, “I saw something/ sitting on your bed/ I saw something/touching your head.” His voice is deep and longing; he is like a monster-mash Elvis. “I can’t believe he’s actually not bad,” someone else whispers. The transition from actor to singer can seem forced and awkward (have you heard Robert Downey Jr.?), but Gosling’s musical outfit is so precise and calculated. Hunching over the piano, Gosling howls, “You better run! You better hide!” in front of a haunted house and graveyard backdrop. We can tell that, as bizarre as the spectacle is, Gosling has achieved his vision.
“Ooo you’re gonna lose your soul tonight…” he later sings. The sorority girls in the back lost their soul the moment they started snapping photos with their CoolPix cameras. The cougars lost their soul after they spilled a glass of wine on me. Mid-set, one of the children walks to the center of the stage and starts wailing a bluesy vocal solo. Gosling takes a crack at the snare drum and she falls to the ground. “She got shot, this is her ghost,” he says, pulling a white sheet over her. “It flew out of her. Hold on, afterlife thoughts are coming,” he laughs. He and Shields hold the white sheet in front of her and a film begins projecting onto the sheet. “This is what happens when you die…it’s a long process when you die.” The girl is running through a forest, and a camera focuses on an indiscernible mustached figure. “Those are guys are waiting for you.”
Gosling and Shields then recite a spooky poem, laughing as they mess up the words. The film ends and all we can see is the girl’s shadow. “See, this is what happens!” The sheet drops and she starts singing “Bang, Bang” (of Kill Bill fame), and the rest of the band joins in. “He shot me down bang, bang, I hit the ground, bang, bang, my baby shot me down . . . ” Dead Man’s Bones continue throughout the night, Shields and Gosling trading vocal duties for their set of the incredibly specific genre of ghoul-wop folk. Everyone came to Le Poisson Rouge expecting to marvel at a pretty face, ready to forgive and forget any music that came along with the package. But instead, they, alongside Gosling, found themselves romantically contemplating the afterlife. “We laugh, we die, we don’t know why,” Gosling speak sings, equally as unsure as the rest of us. Another person whispers, “Truth.”