SAN FRANCISCO — Even in a space as intimate as The Chapel, Chelsea Wolfe managed to maintain an aura of mystery.
The Roseville-born darkwave artist kept a healthy distance from the crowd Thursday night at the San Francisco venue, saying little and shrouding herself in a brooding bevy of lights.
Wolfe alternated between guitar and vocals, applying the tones and flavors to give her ominous, gothic rock the proper presentation. She drew heavily on Abyss, last year’s arresting set which coaxed her gloomy style of expression into full bloom.
“Movie Screen,” from 2011’s Ἀποκάλυψις, showing off her singing skills, building the song before the crowd’s eyes with moans and coos. Layering her voice and instruments, it swirled into a force of nature, lashing at the crowd with confidence.
During “After the Fall,” her bubbling cauldron of music heated to a boiling brew as the song built to an intense climax, with theatric lights glitching and flashing as she triumphantly barked out the lyrics.
This was Wolfe at her most theatrical, which also was her strongest suit. When she tried to balance the dramatic with gentler moments, those often didn’t land with the same emotional force.
She successfully combined both in the finale, “Halfsleeper,” which she performed mostly alone with her electric guitar. Her backing band crept back onto the stage to help her finish the song and the night, but she captivated on her own before that moment, showing a delicate underbelly to her songs’ darkness.
For the most part, the distance between her and the crowd worked to her advantage, making her seem spooky and distant. That mood came in service of her material, making the likes of “Carrion Flowers” and “Feral Love” pop.
In a space fit for just hundreds, it was the moments when Wolfe was at her most confident and theatrical — such as “After the Fall’ and “Movie Screen” — when she delivered best.
After the Fall
Tracks (Tall Bodies)
House of Metal
Color of Blood