(Photo: Kristin Cofer)
About halfway through Chelsea Wolfe’s opening set, one of the Eels fans next to me turned around and began to frantically wave at the woman at the soundboard just behind us. When the bleached blonde, tattooed and pierced tech didn’t bother to look up, the woman got out of her seat, tapped her on the shoulder and began pointing at the stage. They talked for a few minutes and then the Eels fan shrugged and beat a hasty retreat out of the auditorium.
While I suspect that the Eels fans around me didn’t know what to make of Wolfe’s gorgeous doom-folk, it had to be the overwhelming bass that hung over the 45-minute set like a heavy cloud that sent the woman scurrying for the lobby. Even with my earplugs in, the sound was deafening, the footfalls of a massive army stomping its way over songs from her latest LP Pain Is Beauty, as well as some older gems. Sure, the deluge of bass worked. I just couldn’t tell if it was intentional or not. The sound tech had to have heard it, unless she was so deaf that she is now inured to the low end. But even then, she had to feel it. So, I will proceed as if the bass was deliberate.
Joined by a violinist and a bassist/keyboardist, Wolfe maintained her mysterious image throughout a set shrouded in darkness. Beginning with “Feral Love” and “House of Metal,” Wolfe was absolutely captivating on stage, especially when she allowed her passionate voice to escape from the mélange of instrumentation. At the end of “Sick,” the lyric, “We carry on” floated over the audience in spectral brilliance.
Since the bass assault didn’t begin right away, the audience seemed appreciative and quiet, especially when they were really there to see Eels. A few people gothed-out in black hooted and applauded after each song, clearly fans of Wolfe and her music. But if you’re a fan of the lo-fi, alt-rock for which Eels is known, the lush, dense sound of Chelsea Wolfe may not be your bag. I fear Wolfe’s songs may have been too gloomy and muted for those looking for rock.
I had the privilege to see Wolfe headline a show at a smaller venue last year and this performance went by too quickly for me. I was disappointed not to hear “The Waves Have Come,” but a nearly 10 minute song in an opening slot isn’t feasible. Even if they were drowned out by the bass, I do hope Chelsea Wolfe garnered some new converts that night. Her beautiful music certainly deserves it.