Chelsea Wolfe Fitzgerald's Downstairs September 7, 2013
Not many artists touring in small and mid-sized venues put on a real production. Then again, not every artist is Chelsea Wolfe. When the L.A. singer-songwriter's tour stopped by Fitzgerald's downstairs room on Saturday, she brought autumn's dark side in with her.
As the stage lights dimmed, Wolfe's own light show began, lighting up the back of the stage in a row. But this wasn't something you'd see at a special screening of Dark Side of the Moon. Instead, the lights flickered lilac and white to an orchestral track layered over the sound of thunder.
Dark and haunting, maybe, but it was the perfect introduction for Wolfe, who blends gothic rock with more experimental indie music.
Without missing a beat, Wolfe and her band entered the stage with just enough time to adjust their instruments and jump straight into "Feral Love," the first track from her latest album, Pain Is Beauty.
Onstage, Wolfe split her time crooning into two microphones as she lost herself in the music, dancing carelessly in an all-black ensemble as the audience watched, transfixed. It's nothing provocative, and it's definitely not calculated. Instead, something about the way Wolfe moved oozed confidence -- the kind that most people only dream of having.
Before the band jumped into "Ancestors, the Ancients," Wolfe adjusted the sound and asked for the overhead LED lights to be turned down as much as possible.
Like at any other concert, these are the kind of kinks that are best worked out early on in the show. But for some reason, it just seemed more important that things be in their right place early on in this set, if for no other reason than the fact that it wasn't an average performance.
As loops led the band into "We Hit a Wall," Wolfe picked up a black guitar as her band -- a bassist, guitarist and drummer -- continued flawlessly moving from song to song flawlessly as they powered through "Mer" and "Reins."
Whether it's Wolfe's artistic vision, or simply coincidence, everything about her live performance aligned perfectly. To some, her execution could be considered pretentious or grandiose. But her performance is nothing of the sort. Instead, she takes ownership of her image, attitude and style. And truthfully, it's refreshing to see a woman take charge of how she is perceived.
That's not to say that I think Wolfe is contrived in any way.
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Instead, this is the kind of thing we see forced on pop stars, as a "persona" or an "angle." But Wolfe leaves little room for anyone to define her, because she has already presented herself the way she wants to. Because she does so boldly, without any apology or remorse, it only made me respect her more.
As Wolfe moved through "House of Metal" and "Sick," it became apparent that Pain Is Beauty utilizes more synth, looping and stringed instruments than her first three albums. Even so, there's something about Wolfe's music that is so reminiscent of progressive-rock act Tool, specifically the guitar and drum parts on songs like "Tracks (Tall Bodies)" and "Demons."
Though Wolfe made use of loops to seamlessly continue her performance, she did stop playing about midway through the set to directly address the crowd when the back third of the room began talking loud enough to become a distraction.
"Thank you to those of you that are actually listening," Wolfe said. "I always hate going to shows where people are talking, so thanks for listening."
The front of the room erupted in cheers and applause in agreement.
As Wolfe picked things back up, it seemed as though some of the talking had died down. Even so, someone could be heard scolding a group of disruptive women during "Flatlands," after they proceeded to speak through a quieter part of the song.
From then on, it was smooth sailing.
Eventually "Moses" led into "Pale on Pale," a seven-minute track that marked the end of Wolfe's set and, despite being what some might consider lengthy, seemed to encapsulate all the things that Wolfe had to offer in one song.
At the end, Wolfe exited the stage as her band continued to play a thunderous sound, before the lights, thunder and orchestra returned to make the evening feel more complete.
What happened next was the only part of the evening that felt off, but it was understandable on both ends. Because Wolfe packaged her set with so much care and attention to detail, it felt complete enough that half of the crowd left the floor, while the other half waited silently for an encore.
But just as it seemed that there wouldn't be one, the band emerged from backstage, joint in hand, to perform "Lone."
How Was the Opener?: Dallas' True Widow knows how to jam. The group has managed to blend the best parts of shoegaze with their own slowed-down version of rock and roll that they've aptly titled "stonegaze." Honestly, I'm not sure I could have labeled it better myself, but all genres aside, this band makes me proud to be a Texan.
The Crowd: All ages, with men slightly outnumbering the ladies. Everyone seemed to be wearing very fashionable black clothing, which only added to the gothic vibe.
Overheard In the Crowd: One very eager and adoring fan kept shouting "so good!" I lost count after the fifth time.
Random Notebook Dump: Nicole Estill, bassist for True Widow, is what Fitzgerald's sound lady, Lauren, would look like if she slapped on some black lipstick and bleached her hair.
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