At The Chapel with Chelsea Wolfe


Chelsea Wolfe and her eponymous band performing at The Chapel. Photo by me.

A former mortuary may seem like an odd place for a music venue, but for gothy, dark folk rocker Chelsea Wolfe it was weirdly appropriate. Situated on the hipster haven that is Valencia Street, The Chapel’s interior was bathed in blood red light right before the show started; combined with the high, arched ceiling, the dusty chandelier and black curtains at the back of the stage, it made for a pretty striking visual. Wolfe was playing the second of two shows in the City. As you may have gathered from the last time I talked about her, I’m kind of a big fan. I was mildly devastated when I couldn’t make it to her last San Francisco show, so when I saw that she was not only coming back but playing two nights in a row, I didn’t hesitate to buy a ticket.

The Chapel is a small venue and it filled up at an alarmingly fast rate. My fellow concert attendees were mostly young. Almost everyone was wearing black, or some other dark hue and tattoos were every where. In that sense, it wasn’t very different from the several metal shows I’ve been to over the last few months. Wolfe is, strictly speaking, not a metal artist, although she has many songs (her last album in particular) that are metallic as hell. I was wearing my particularly ludicrous Mastodon t-shirt to this show mostly because I didn’t know what else to put on, but to my pleasant surprise a few people were into it. Other metal shirts I spotted at this not metal show included The Ocean, Behemoth and Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats.

The opening act was a duo from New Zealand called A Dead Forest Index, comprised of brothers Adam Sherry (guitar and vocals) and Sam Sherry (drums and backing vocals). I won’t even try to describe what sort of music they play; their Facebook page describes their genre as “Other,” which is really helpful. I had checked these guys out awhile back and I did enjoy them and they sound just as good live as they do on record. They did little talking between songs; Adam has the tiniest of speaking voices and he’s barely audible even with a microphone directly in front of his face. It makes for a profound contrast with his vibrant singing voice, which filled up the whole venue with ease. A Dead Forest Index is a fascinating live act, though I did find myself getting restless near the end of their set.

After a sound check that went on just long enough for a bathroom break and another $8 beer, it was Wolfe’s turn to come on. The pre-set music pumped into The Chapel was downright eerie, setting up a doomy, melancholic atmosphere and getting the crowd worked up. The band, clad in all black, came out first followed by Wolfe in a white dress. They opened up with “Demons” and segued right into the crushing “Carrion Flowers,” which is a favorite of mine. Drummer Jess Cowrie was annihilating her kit on those songs. Three of the first four tracks of her set where all from Abyss, the most metal friendly of Wolfe’s work, so I was a happy camper. Fan favorite “Feral Love” (that Game of Thrones song) came somewhere in the middle of the set. Wolfe didn’t speak once during the entire set; not even when she and the band came back onstage for an encore in the form of “Hypno” and “Halfsleeper.”

The last two concerts I’ve been to (Behemoth and Amon Amarth) were metal as fuck, so a more low key yet equally engaging show was exactly what I needed. Wolfe is a captivating performer; her haunting yet beautiful voice and excellent guitar playing is all she needs to hold your attention and her band gives her excellent backup. I came out of that show as a fan of Cowrie and bassist/keyboard player Ben Chisholm, who is positively electrifying to watch. Even if you are unfamiliar with her music, I heartily recommend checking out Wolfe if the opportunity arises. She really is something else.

I’m really glad I got a second chance to see Ms Wolfe perform and I thought The Chapel was cool venue; I wouldn’t mind going back there, provided they book someone I’m interested in seeing.

An Ode to Chelsea Wolfe

You are presumably a person who likes good music, so I’m going to do you a favor and point some out for you: meet Chelsea Wolfe.

You’ve probably never heard of her (*cracks open PBR can*). She’s originally from Sacramento and has been making music for just about all of her life. Despite not having any real qualifications to critiquing or categorizing music, I’m going to try to do precisely that. Think of her stuff as dark, ambient, electronic-flavored folk music. Yeah, I know that doesn’t exactly blow the pants off most people, but just watch the above music video.

Holy crap, what the hell did I just watch?! I don’t usually mean that in a positive sense, but this is a day for treading new ground. I mean, “Carrion Flowers” is just sick. Every time I throw that shit on, I feel like I’m about to step into a monstrously difficult boss battle, which is a feeling I typically don’t associate with folk music, electronic or otherwise. This song in particular has caused me to coin a new subgenre to describe Wolfe’s sound. I’m going to call it “Zerg folk.”

Statistics say that you are probably a fan of the HBO series Game of Thrones, where you have definitely heard one of her previous singles, “Feral Love.” It graced your ears in that spectacular trailer for season four. On that note, I’ve pretty much accepted it as set-in-stone fact that many future dark fantasy and/or sci-fi series will be raiding her discography to add some nightmarish edge to trailers, promo materials and motion picture soundtracks. It’s just too good to pass up.

Check out Wolfe’s latest release, Abyss, which is out now on Sargent House. I sure as hell will. Since the Niners took yet another bold step towards going 5-11 this season, I could use a pleasant distraction.