Review – Chelsea Wolfe at the Electric Owl, Vancouver, June 21, 2014
– review by Thalia Stopa
Judging from the mostly black-clad crowd at the Electric Owl, those who ventured out for Chelsea Wolfe’s Summer Solstice show were glad for the excuse to shun the extended daylight hours. Wolfe too was defiantly dressed in a batwing sweater and tan tunic layered over black pants and long-sleeved shirt.
Before the singer/songwriter had even walked onstage, deep red lights drenching a drawn velvet curtain and a spinning disco ball added to the morbidly romantic setting. Although the summer sun still held shrine outdoors, inside the fresh air was replaced by a thick and moody fog. The stage was set ceremoniously with a gold cloth-draped plinth. What proceeded was a solemn and haunting performance. Unfortunately, not everyone was respectful of the mood, and the enchantment was frequently broken by a group of oblivious and entitled punks up front.
Advertised as an acoustic set, Wolfe’s show nonetheless also featured violinist Andrea Calderon and keyboardist/bassist Ben Chrisholm. The mournful violin wails and pulsating bass emitted supernatural frequencies and at times the stage lighting flickered as if possessed. Considering the themes of death and lost love that echoed across Wolfe’s musical releases, paranormal activity would not have been an unexpected occurrence.
Wolfe alternated between the decidedly darker and synth-heavy material off last year’s Pain is Beauty LP and the folksier Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs. Both dark gems of new gothic Americana, when listened to in their entirety, the records evoke a natural growth and shift in Wolfe’s musical career. However, the transitions between individual live songs felt somewhat unnatural.
If anything sinister was at play, it was likely possession. Wolfe channeled the early incarnations of two of my favourite singer/songwriters: Cat Power and PJ Harvey – “We Hit A Wall” and “Sunstorm” could have fit easily on the latter’s To Bring You My Love and Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, respectively.
Video – Chelsea Wolfe, “Sunstorm”:
Wolfe was more of a bewitching presence than performer. Although not a word was uttered to the audience until her tenth song, she exuded no ego or attitude. One black-rimmed eye gazed unwavering out from her fine features and long side-swept bangs. Her breathy vocals were both hymnal and intense, a ghostly but comforting embrace.
The longest day of the year had turned pitch black by the time Wolfe’s encore ended, but I had no remorse about having shirked my self-imposed sun-worshipping duties. It was a smooth transition from the cool but empathetic hold of Wolfe’s voice out into the equally dark and comforting warm summer night’s embrace.