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One cold and dreary evening in Northeast Portland, a crowd of darkened silhouettes gathered together in anticipation for a night that would hopefully warm their hearts and souls.  Chelsea Wolfe, the intrepid and haunting singer/songwriter, would be performing her beautifully melancholic songs of hope, loss and connection to nature to a packed house at Wonder Ballroom promoting her latest album, The Birth of Violence.  The Electronica-driven, celestial siren, Ioanna Gika, would also be performing upon the release of her debut solo album, Thalassa.

Standing in the main hall of the Wonder ballroom, I felt awkwardly under-dressed amongst a seemingly endless sea of Gothic elegance, Victorian dresses and body piercing.  Given that the vast majority of her fans are women, it was no surprise that Chelsea Wolfe’s fan-base were overbearingly polite and unapologetic in their support of one another.  A sisterhood that clearly understood the conflicts that they each have faced walking the male-dominated landscape as female in these uncertain times.  The Birth of Violence was created for them as a resounding statement of strength.  Tonight, they would gather together under one roof in support of the loudest voice that spoke for their own struggles and generation.

Much to the chagrin of the younger fans in the audience, the venue was barricaded right down the middle, allowing only the older generation access to the stage with their drinks in hand.  It didn’t stop her fans from gathering shoulder to shoulder, complimenting each others appearance, sharing stories and comparing the distances they traveled to see their unlikely hero.

Beginning the night, Ioanna Gika, bathed in a glowing cyan light, appeared on stage and extended her arms, swaying back and forth to the soft, down-tempo beats that surrounding her on stage.  Cool hues of violet danced around her, transforming Ionna into a silhouette of light and shadow.  The unassuming Greek songwriter performed music from her latest release, Thalassa.  Like a subtle heartbeat slowly gaining in momentum, the electronic tempo that provided the backdrop to her music reverberated throughout the venue and her beautiful, ethereal vocal melodies and long golden hair, hypnotically weaved through them.

And then silence.  A warm orange glow penetrated the darkness of the venue as a single white light illuminated Chelsea Wolfe’s face.  With a subtle smile, she began to strum her guitar and a melody both haunting and elegant wrapped itself around her as she sang the opening track, “Flatlands” from her acoustic album, Unknown Rooms.   Chelsea Wolfe’s devotees stood in a admirable silence throughout her performance.  This was solemn ground that heeded not to be desecrated with the sounds of the outside world.  The stage morphed and reconfigured itself to the atmosphere created by each song.  Sometimes her essence and melodies provided warmth, like a fire burning under a starlit night.  Other times it became a tortured array of orange beams pulsing violently causing dissonance and unease. 

Her most devoted fans let me know that this would be a different and vulnerable performance in contrast to the aggression of her previous album, Hiss Spun.  She played a stripped down selection of acoustic favorites from her career, ranging from her latest album, The Birth of Violence to as far back as the fan-favorite, “Cousins of the Antichrist” from her 2010 release, The Grime and the Glow.  As an encore, she closed the night by creating a spellbinding choir, voiced completely on her own, with the beloved hymn, “The Way We Used To”.

Haunting is one way to describe the music of Chelsea Wolfe but trying to sum up the atmosphere and dissonant poetry of Chelsea Wolfe in a single word would be unfair.  The community that she has manifested around herself is one of support and quiet compassion, like a circle friends sharing warmth around a fire while sharing their stories, struggles and triumphs.  Chelsea Wolfe’s American Darkness Tour is an experience unto itself and a night that will warm your heart even on the coldest night.


Raul Soria Jr.

Photojournalist - Portland

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