Chelsea Wolfe, Wovenhand
Rudyard’s British Pub
September 18, 2015
Halloween is still more than a month away, but the first, haunting chills of the season invaded Montrose on Friday night. Chelsea Wolfe, the blackened L.A. folk-rocker, swooped into town to cast her witchy spell over Rudyard’s, and while nobody was hip enough to hand out Fun-Size Snickers in the neighborhood, Wolfe’s music did a spooky-good job of dressing up one of the last days of summer in the haunting guise of deepest autumn.
With her strange and intriguing blend of gothic, metal and electronic stylings, Chelsea Wolfe is an artist at home in the rock and roll underground. Still, she’s a bit too high-profile to be playing Rudyard’s, the homey pub and open-mike enclave on Waugh Drive. Her performance on the bar’s upstairs stage sold out easily, and I watched more than a dozen hopeful fans get turned away by the man handing out wristbands.
The show was a Pegstar production, and with the local booking powerhouse having ended its lease at Fitzgerald’s and still months away from the opening of White Oak Music Hall, maybe Rudz was the best they could do in late September. It made for a sweaty, crowded performance upstairs, with fans crushed in close to Rudz’s low corner stage.
The mix, however, was terrific for opening act Wovenhand, a Denver outfit led by ex-16 Horsepower front man David Eugene Edwards. Thanks to a an embarrassment of influences that includes everything from alt-country to post-punk and even Native American chants, it’s none too easy to peg Wovenhand’s sound. Their best stuff on Friday sounded like delightfully spacey ‘90s alternative, full of harmonized guitar whine with just the right amount of crunch.
The crowd greeted Wovenhand warmly, but when they finished their set and Wolfe’s band began a lengthy soundcheck, the emotions in the audience seemed to spike. Fans craned their necks and stood on tippy-toes trying to catch a glimpse of their moody heroine.
When Wolfe appeared at last, it was almost like seeing a ghost. A quiet, spectral presence onstage, the singer seemed to pop up out of nowhere — one mean trick when you stand out so starkly. Wolfe’s band looked like standard-issue rock and rollers, but the songwriter herself came dressed as a saddened Wiccan in a black tunic, her hair hanging limply from a loose bun and her pale skin accentuated by white makeup.
In short, there was no question who the star was on that tiny little stage. Rudyard’s limitations made Wolfe’s typically impressive lighting production pretty much impossible, but the dim, red cans onstage did a nice job of building the spooky, desecrated backdrop for songs like her opening number, “Carrion Flowers,” from her latest record. As the band cranked out heavy guitar harmonies with thick, layered keys, Wolfe moaned tenderly, her voice cast adrift on an ocean of distortion.
As you’d expect from a songwriter heavily influenced by both black metal and folk-pop, it was a dynamic set. Wolfe wailed like a banshee over pounding drums one minute, then had the crowd shushing each other to hear quiet lyrics over weeping strings the next. On one evil-organ ballad, her voice sounded as if somebody had buried Lana Del Rey alive for a couple of days before busting her out of the tomb and shoving her onstage. Wolfe’s pouty-lipped delivery and marshmallow-soft beats would lull the audience into a soft reverie before blasting their ear drums out with heavy guitar crunch that appeared and disappeared when we least expected it.
Wolfe kept the stage banter to a minimum, speaking only softly to her fans now and then so as not to ruin the mood. After a final, pulsing rave-up, though, the specter slipped into the crowd. I kept waiting for her to fly off on a broomstick, but the singer instead was pleasant enough to share words, hugs and photos with a long line of admirers. This wasn’t Halloween; Chelsea Wolfe is a real girl, after all. But she’s got some kind of spooky magic in those guitar strings, and at the end of the night, I'm not so sure that makeup ever really comes off.
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Personal Bias: Can you tell I’m looking forward to Halloween?
The Crowd: Tightly-packed, straining to see.
Overheard in the Crowd: “She’s so fucking cool it’s stupid.”
Random Notebook Dump: Rudyard’s PA system wasn’t quite up to this task. Simply not big enough to drown out all the chatterboxes. The sound mix was good all night, though.