We Portlanders like the chance to simply sit and sip our beers while taking in a show, thank you very much.
Portland audiences aren’t an overly excitable bunch. Performers attempting to get the crowd clapping in unison do so at their own risk. This makes Revolution Hall, one of the city’s newest music venues, a particularly interesting place to see a show. Converted from an old high school (lockers still decoratively flanking the corridors), the general admission theater is fully-seated, and it turns out that, given the option, we Portlanders like the chance to simply sit and sip our beers while taking in a show, thank you very much.
Chelsea Wolfe was the second consecutive artist I’ve seen play Revolution Hall who seemed to grow a little uncomfortable with the sedentary audience. This wasn’t reflected in her musical performance (she fired out of the gates with a shredding opener to “Demons” and then crushed it with the pile-driving “Carrion Flowers” off the latest album) but rather her demeanor between songs. Meanwhile, energetic multi-instrumentalist and co-producer Ben Chisholm twice tried in vain to signal to the crowd to stand, with only a few excitable souls bouncing upright for a minute or two before slinking back down with the comfortably-seated masses. It took Wolfe herself to beckon us to our feet.
For an artist who is so often cloaked in mystique, Wolfe didn’t enjoy the same atmosphere as her previous Portland headlining gigs at the hip and tiny Doug Fir Lounge or the sweatbox of Hawthorne Theatre. Though her alternatingly majestic and bleak music seems to befit for smoke and shadow, Wolfe’s stage was a simple one. A bank of lights behind the drummer joined with those above to flash dark pinks and blues and reds. Wolfe said little to the audience as she reeled off one sterling doom folk number after another, other than to mention that she was receiving a mild shock through the microphone each time she gripped it. You know, the usual stuff. Finally, about five or six songs in, she muttered, “You can stand if you want,” and the sold-out Revolution Hall audience acquiesced.
Last August’s Abyss is Wolfe’s heaviest album to date—and there indeed were plenty of juggernaut guitar swells to contend with here—but her performance was most striking when the music stilled and her voice soared to the rafters. While Wolfe mostly planted herself front and center, her band mates amped up the energy, whirling around the stage or hammering at the drums with ferocity. Though the set was a bit frontloaded with the newer stuff (other than the goth opener “Demons” from 2011’s Apokalypsis), Wolfe moved throughout her catalog, hitting the mark with the brooding thrum of “Feral Love” and the ethereality of “House of Metal” from Pain Is Beauty. And “Survive,” from Abyss, closed the set with sparse instrumentation and haunting vocals building to a ferocious climax.
In interviews, Wolfe has pointed out her struggles with the dream world, most frighteningly manifested in terrifying bouts with sleep paralysis. Somnambulant new single “Hypnos” made for a fitting encore, then. Wolfe performed with only a gently-plucked guitar and her voice at its most gossamer, and she followed this with her debut album’s “Halfsleeper.” Wolfe can rest easy knowing that she sold out one of Portland’s hottest new venues and delivered a virtuoso performance that enraptured the audience, even if she had to tell us when to stand.