LOS ANGELES — Singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe marked a birthday last week. She’s kept busy for much of 2019, releasing her meditative folk album The Birth of Violence and embarking on an acoustic tour. While her current sound has become less intense than it was during 2017’s Hiss Spun cycle, her set at the Palace Theatre proved her emotional and atmospheric power within a more stripped-down context.
From the first two cuts, “Flatlands” and “American Darkness,” Wolfe’s persona was palpable. She stood like a specter in a carpathian forest. Distancing herself from the crushing heaviness she previously used, her rapturous voice and rustic acoustic guitar proved just as engaging.
With Ben Chisholm layering intoxicating soundscapes of keyboard and guitar, Wolfe also used lighting and stage props to breath new life to the cuts from Birth of Violence. Where the record remained compellingly subdued, cuts like “The Mother Road” and “Be All Things” achieved a sweeping effect. Nuance still pervaded over hard-hitting riffs, but the sense of size Wolfe achieved with little more than her voice and guitar remained impressive throughout the set.
While records like Abyss and Hiss Spun lend themselves to her heavier side, Wolfe always had a folky side. It was great to hear her reintroduce cuts like “Boyfriend” and “Cousins of the Antichrist” alongside her newer numbers. It highlighted Birth of Violence as a sort of full-circle album, re-envisioning her roots after years of growth. This was most obviously exemplified through her singing, which was nothing short of breathtaking.
Beyond nailing every vocal facet of her songs, Wolfe displayed her versatility through two covers. Her renditions of “Night of the Vampire” by Rocky Erickson and “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell saw her push her range with persuasive fervor. She made the songs her own, while paying respect to the songwriters who inspired her. During the latter one, she came down from her woody throne to sit next to her partner, a welcome changeup from her austere backdrop.
After ending her set with the hypnotic “Highway,” Wolfe retook the stage to perform “The Way We Used To” as an encore. As she used loop pedals to harmonize with herself, her impeccable musicianship sank in one last time. Wolfe’s performance is a sensory deathtrap that might go unnoticed until she releases it. The jarring snap back to reality becomes just as cathartic as her immersive performances.
Ioanna Gika‘s opening procession treaded a similar path and was filtered through unique sonics. Her diverse stylistic blend translated naturally on the stage. Combining avant-pop, synth-wave, trip-hop and dark folk, her set became equal parts ethereal and danceable. Where the rattling beat of “Messenger” begged people to get out of their seats, the appropriately named “Drifting” became the audio equivalent of lucid dreaming.
While more dense than Wolfe’s performance, Gika’s songs remained incredibly tight. Her beats bumped without overwhelming the keyboards, bass guitar and cello. The latter instrument proved especially effective, providing low end resonence and symphonic undercurrents to the synthetic witchcraft.