I purposely didn’t listen to Chelsea Wolfe before going to this show. I wanted to avoid having any expectations in my head so that when I sat down to write about it, with a snack in hand, it was pure, honest and drawing from the musical high still lingering in my body.
Chelsea Wolfe with Spell Talk and Light Black @ Urban Lounge 08.29
By Darcy Russell [R2D2therc@gmail.com]
Posted September 4, 2012 in Show Reviews
Urban Lounge is one of my favorite venues in Salt Lake. The sound is always well balanced and no matter where you stand, it sounds good. I arrive as the first band, Light Black, is tearing down and Spell Talk is setting up. I hit the bar and head outside, where I realize I must have missed the memo about it being new-old-stock, black-framed glasses night. People shoot me a look as though they know me, but they don’t know if it’s from real life or some kind of social networking voyeurism, but I digress.
It’s a Wednesday, most people have class or work in the morning so it’s quiet for a Spell Talk show. Regardless, they play and they sound tight, but are lacking the energy that they normally feed off of when they play before bigger crowds. At one point, I think, "Is Sammy Harper (the drummer from Spell Talk) wearing a fake beard?" During the sound check for Chelsea Wolfe (who the hell pays attention to sound check? Me, apparently), I hear the gorgeous, rich, dark tone of a Rickenbacker bass. I immediately bounce up from my seat and land stage-side to examine the other instruments that will be performing musical surgery over the next hour. I see a Fender Jaguar and a Fender Strat that I know are going to complement that Rickenbacker tone nicely, plenty of synthesizers and keyboards and a beautiful Fender Bassman tube head on a massive Fender cabinet that I can’t stop looking at.
The show begins and I find myself wondering if the fog machine is malfunctioning because I still have no idea what I’m about to witness, and the room is slowly being enveloped in fog. I have the uneasy feeling I’m in a cave with Merlin, preparing to slay a dragon for its precious eggs in this blinding mist. Good thing everyone is wearing their black-framed glasses to see through it. Then I hear and feel dark swelling tones of bass, looped vocals and keys as they open with “Movie Screen.” Fog machine aside, their ominous stage presence creates an element of awe in the room, and the audience is eerily silent and perfectly still. I can feel the energy waiting to burst out of this band. I’m stoked, because just when I think I know where a piece is going, it does the exact opposite. I’m built up by Chelsea Wolfe’s layered vocal loops, then the ambient guitar sounds and deep bass drop me out a trap door and the music halts for a fraction of a second. They are tight and together, executing these rising and falling swells with surgical precision. I recognize the highly emotional vocal influence of PJ Harvey, Beth Gibbons and the desert rock bass tone of Nick Oliveri circa early Kyuss. The keyboard tones are heavy and warm, contrasting with soothing yet sometimes-jolting vocals. I have the feeling I dated the same guy that fucked this girl over enough to cause the emotion evident in her vocals. The drum kit is simple—bass, snare, a couple toms and limited cymbals—but the drummer knows how to use each piece to its full potential. The audience is completely still and silent and rapidly disappearing in the thick fog produced by the malfunctioning fog machine. Wolfe laughs between songs as she, too, disappears in the mist.
It feels about half-time in this set, and I’m feeling a little bogged down by the musical and emotional weight in the room, so I head out to the patio. I spend the rest of the night on the patio, listening to the intricate guitar riffs and keyboard swells happening inside while talking to friends. I am eager to get home and write about this unexpected discovery of a group whose discography is about to be added to my collection.