EXCLAIM! Live Review / Chelsea Wolfe / Vancouver
Northern California’s Chelsea Wolfe won’t be playing venues like the Biltmore much longer. If her early show this evening is any indication of the direction of her music and her band, she is a festival headliner in waiting, a complicated anomaly finding her voice as an artist and blossoming exponentially with each recording and performance.
Wolfe slunk onstage in what looked like a black and white funeral shroud and addressed the mic, surrounded by Ben Chisholm on keys and electronics, Kevin Dockter on electric guitar, and Dylan Fujioka on drums, who were all dressed in dark button-down shirts. As her band scraped cymbals, employed a bottleneck slide and warped pitch-bend on the keys to create the appropriately otherworldly soundscape of “Movie Screen” (the closing track from 2011’s Apokalypsis), Wolfe seemed to bring the universe to a standstill with her uniquely chilling, tormented voice, awash in scratchy delay and reverb.
One might guess Wolfe would be quite the extrovert judging from her press photos, often adorned in bold gothic fashion statements, but her presence was surprisingly delicate, somewhat distanced but not aloof, her smoky eyes either closed or oddly gazing through the crowd at a slightly kinked angle. Looking down, she thanked Vancouver for making her feel welcome so softly that it seemed the words might disintegrate in midair. Yet, for how frail and wounded her voice sounded, there is a quiet strength in there, a resonant “don’t fuck with me” edge to her post-apocalyptic poetry.
This edge was emboldened by her band, who performed her sonically dense and varied doom folk with equal parts swagger and sensitivity. Chisholm often sang without a mic, as he pushed the more electronic direction Wolfe has apparently taken in the studio as of late. With the ramped-up electronics added to most of the Apokalypsis tracklisting, the comparison to Portishead taking a black metal detour became that much more apt.
Wolfe may not be as technically proficient as Beth Gibbons, but her emotive and sonorous tones resonate with a similar level of gravity. Certainly, Wolfe is as much a solemn, distinctive character as Gibbons or St. Vincent, and the level of gigs she’s sure to land in the future will reflect that.