Chelsea Wolfe soldiers through homecoming set
It’s close to 11 p.m. on a Wednesday when Jesse Phillips and his group ESS take to the stage at Harlow’s on J Street—the first of three bands heralding Chelsea Wolfe’s reluctant return to Sacramento for one night only. Call it dark wave, doom folk, apoca-pop or goth rock, the mood for the night is grungy and gritty—representative of this looming side to the Sacramento scene that’s finding its way increasingly into the spotlight.
Tonight, the room is crowded with denim shirts and long hair but is mercifully devoid of flannel.
The band’s first chords push its way through the room quietly at first, and then gather strength as a dense wall of noise, dark and rumbling and almost intolerably loud, before settling into an agreeably down-tuned rhythm. Phillips cranes his neck down to the microphone and looks out at the beer swilling, head bobbing crowd and delivers a mixture of Gregorian chant-turned-Interpol, or maybe it’s the other way around.
Screature takes the stage next, a psychedelic outfit with a kiss of punk rock as fronted by Liz Donner. This is a set in which nothing much is happening but not much needs to happen to meet its clever minimalist aesthetic. Donner kicks around the stage in a schoolgirl-sweet dress and saddle shoes, flipping her hair to hide one eye or the other as the rest of the band concentrate on practiced three-chord progressions for two-minute intervals. By this point, Harlow’s main room has grown more crowded, and its inhabitants progressed from modest head bobs to limited side-to-side boogies without ever abandoning the baseline of cool.
It’s after midnight when Chelsea Wolfe and band finally take the stage, the room brimming to accommodate what has been an epic turnout for the local and reticently ex-local band. While the group begins performing a set of well-worn songs as intricately and exactly as ever, hardly noticeable technical problems seem to occupy Wolfe’s mind as she takes an opportunity to betray the casual vibe.
“This is the last Sacramento show we are ever playing,” she tells the audience to a scattering of boos, claps and a cry of “Rude!” from somewhere in the back. Still, the audience stays close and appreciative despite the ever-loved front woman’s delicate and recalcitrant mood whose tide eventually turns for the positive some halfway through the show. A handful of new songs prove heavy, strong and progressive, hinting the group is more likely to explode than burn out or fade away. At the end of the night, Wolfe and her band even emerge to satisfy the crowd’s eager calls for encore.
“This is really great, thank you all for coming out,” she says, speaking into the microphone, even though her eyes glance up into the room for only a moment.