There’s not much rhyme or reason to the habits and practices attached to my history as a music fan. All throughout high school (which was roughly 189 years ago) I was goth, and that seed of gothness to this day has thick and sturdy, winding roots inside me. But for the past few years I’ve primarily been listening to a mixed bag of Sufjan Stevens, Phil Spector-era girl group bands like The Ronettes and The Crystals, and a great deal of vintage Madonna and Whitney Houston (with some Beyoncé thrown in for good measure). I obsess about a lot of my favorite bands and musicians, buying
all of their albums, watching all of their videos and live performances. But aside from a very few exceptions, I’ve never been one to go Wikipedia-deep on the performers whose music I soundtrack my life with. I rarely know the names of songs, or even albums. I couldn’t tell you the names of their spouses, or what cities they own houses in. I’m not really that kind of fan. I mostly just listen and leave it at that. And it’s for this reason that, going into One Eyed Jack’s and waiting, belly to the stage, for my first Chelsea Wolfe show to start, I had no clue what she looked like, though I had all five of her studio albums, as well as the two 7” EPs she put out with King Dude. In the end, I like to think this made my seeing her for the first time all the more special. It’s always nicer to meet in person.
After the opening band Wovenhand finished their set, my wife and I propped against the stage and watched the sound people bring out Chelsea Wolfe’s gear. A dark-haired woman came out and started tuning her guitar. “Oh, that must be Chelsea,” I thought, basing that assumption on absolutely nothing other than she was a woman with a musical instrument, and she was standing in front of me. Turns out it was actually Aurielle Zeitler, which I know now, because I went home and looked up her name. “Look, she has small feet like me,” I whispered to my wife. “I don’t think that’s her,” she replied. And then Chelsea, the actual Chelsea, came out.
Here’s the part where I warn you that when I love music, I really love it, and it makes me into kind of a sap. I fall in love with the people who create it. My body heats up. My heart beats faster. I sigh and my eyelids get heavy. It’s real, and I don’t care how it sounds. Within the opening few notes of Chelsea’s first song, I wanted to run away to some distant land with her and live out the rest of our days in a centuries-old castle on a hillside, with me just watching her, forever, and her just standing there singing, forever. She is a beautiful person, but that has nothing to do with it in this instance. Her music, and the way she delivers it, seeks out the dusty, deflated, matte-black balloon wedged in a crevice somewhere inside of me, and fills it with heat and steam until it occupies any available room in my body. This ain’t no groupie shit. This is more along the lines of religion. I feel transformed.
Chelsea began her set like like a hammer thrown into a microwave— loud and bright—with “Carrion Flowers,” off her latest album, Abyss. In a long, one-sleeved dress adorned with unknown, interesting symbols, she fixed her witch eyes on everyone, and snaked out her tongue to the corner of her mouth, striking just the smallest bit of lustful fear in the crowd. If anything about her stage presence is the result of nervousness, rather than calculation, I pray that she never does anything to alter or remedy it.
Including a fair amount of songs from the new album, and a mix from the others, the rest of the set list was (in order) “Dragged Out,” “Iron Moon,” “Kings,” “We Hit a Wall,” “After the Fall,” “Mer,” “Maw,” “House of Metal,” “Simple Death,” “Grey Days,” “Survive,” and then after a brief departure backstage, “Color of Blood,” before closing with “Pale on Pale” from 2011’s Apokalypsis. I make a point to list the full set by name here because I had to go through a lot to get it. An attempt to remove one of the paper setlists left on stage was thwarted by an intercepting crowd jackal (so I had to push up my glasses and email her publicist for it). Still, I’m jealous that the guy standing next to me got to go home with the printed version, handed directly to him by Chelsea. I did get to go home with a live album on white vinyl, limited to a run of 150, that I got from her merch table. On my way to get it, a lady zigged instead of zagged and stomped on the totality of my foot. But I didn’t even feel it. I was concert high.
Aside from a few very minor sound issues during the show (during one of which Chelsea calmly walked over to Aurielle’s mic and continued singing until hers was fixed) the show was completely perfect. Days later, I was still thinking about it; and the experience as a whole reminds me of the delirium going to shows growing up. As a lifelong fan of music, albeit a lazy one (trivia-wise), that type of experience is priceless, and I’d say this show was one of the best I’ve ever seen.