Attending Church with Chelsea Wolfe

Posted by Dale Wilsey Jr. | Posted in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Posted on Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Snow fell across Philadelphia in a silent hush. I was standing in the vestibule of the First Unitarian Church, avoiding the cold as best as I could, watching vehicles creep along Chestnut street. It was, relatively, quiet. It was the perfect setting for what I was about to witness. 

I had arrived in Philly around 10 A.M. after grabbing a few hours of sleep and catching the 7 o'clock bus south. Most of my day had been spent wandering the streets and browsing various shops and used bookstores. This was all secondary. What drew me to Philly was the chance to see Chelsea Wolfe perform. 

When I had learned of her tour and the stop in Philly, I was already too late to purchase tickets for the first show. I was, to say the least, disappointed. Chelsea Wolfe's albums have been spinning constantly this past year and filling the confines of my apartment with her hauntingly angelic vocals and the dark, but beautiful, shadows of her sounds. 

In October, Chelsea released her third, full-length studio album, Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs, which she was now touring to support and which I, seemingly, was going to miss. Maybe it was simply by popular demand (I'd like to think it was my disappointed Tweet to Sargent House about the show already being sold out) that another show was added. 

Whatever the reason may be (probably popular demand), I hoped online and purchased a ticket as soon as they went on sale. The earlier, additional show sold out just as quickly as the first. But, here I was. An hour early, freezing my ass off, watching the snow fall like a funeral shroud over the city. 

Chelsea was scheduled to play in the side chapel of the First Unitarian. I had been to shows at the Church before, but they had always been in the basement. I'd never witnessed a show in the actual chapel, so I was, on top of everything else, excited by the prospect

When the door finally opened and I walked through the doors of the tiny side chapel, I knew that I was in for an extremely special and intimate show. Two rows of church pews lined the walls split by an aisle that led directly toward a makeshift altar where white candles with flickering flames surrounded a bouquet of white flowers in front of a smoke-charred American flag. I took my seat in the very first pew and awaited my baptism.

After a few tracks of Hawkwind over the PA system, the lights dimmed, leaving only a crimson stage light glowing across the altar and flag. The opening act, King Dude (don't let the name throw you), took their place in front of the congregation. Dressed in button-down black shirts and black slacks, slicked-back hair, and holding a glass of whiskey each, the two piece toasted the audience and began their set. 

I had never heard King Dude prior to this evening, but I was assured by friends that I would enjoy them. Their sound falls somewhere between Johnny Cash and Death in June with a healthy dose of pagan rituals and Satanic incantations. Somewhat of a contrast to the hosting venue, to say the least. At times, the Lucifer references seemed a bit hokey (see their "Lucifer's the Light of the World" track), but, overall, I enjoyed their set and will definitely look into them further.

The lights came back up, and the music returned to the PA system. This time it was a mix between 60's psych rock and doom. Chelsea appeared from the side entrance of the chapel, a handful of pages in her hand which she placed under the skull of an Ibex on a humble, worn table close to the main mic. Chelsea appeared in a long, white dress that made her look even more ethereal than her pale flesh and ice blue eyes did already.

She opened with "Apalachia", a track off her new album, and I was instantly drawn in. As Chelsea strummed her guitar, the violin slowly came in leading to the vocals. It's not often that a musician's voice sounds as clean and perfect live as it does on a recording. Chelsea takes that rarity a step further, producing even more passion and beauty live than you can achieve on a recording. Her voice is, simply, angelic and hauntingly beautiful.

Song after song, I was continually blown away by Chelsea's ability. The acoustic version of "Moses" was a great addition to the set and I hope it shows up somewhere in the future on a recording. Other highlights included a new song, which she didn't mention a title for, and closing the set with a live performance of "The Way We Used To" alone, building the song completely from her voice using a looper. She humbly thanked us and disappeared through the side door.

As I walked down the aisle toward the exit, I felt I had just received some sort of holy communion. That I had witnessed something extremely special. Over the past year, Chelsea has grown in popularity and I feel that performances set in such intimate settings will become rare or non-existent for her. Though, if it's completely up to her, that may not be the case. 

The hours spent in the frigid temperatures of Philadelphia were, ultimately, more than worth it. The snow was still falling as I climbed into the back of a cab. By the time I reached my friends house, the second show would be starting and another group of fortunate spectators would witness one of the most satisfying and incredible performances I've ever had the chance to see.

                                          ****






Watch the new video for Chelsea Wolfe's song "Flatlands"



Additional photos from the January 25th show in Philadelphia

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