Chelsea Wolfe made a conscious attempt to go back to her acoustic dark folk roots with Birth of Violence, her stellar new album. With her two previous records, Abyss (2015) and Hiss Spun (2017), Wolfe was embracing a much heavier, doom metal platform, which was great, but was quite a departure from her earlier material. After exploring that territory across two full-length releases, she has stripped her songwriting back to its skeletal core and recorded a hauntingly beautiful new LP.
Birth of Violence relies mostly on Wolfe’s fundamental strength, her vocals and acoustic guitar. To showcase her talent with both, her current tour is also a stripped down and intimate affair. She did have some backing guitar and electronics from a barely visible band member, but the augmentation was mostly subtle. The penultimate concert of her North American tour was in Seattle on Wednesday evening at The Showbox downtown and her performance was so strong, it induced goosebumps.
Taking the dimly lit stage in a white dress, she played almost all of her new album. Of those tracks, “The Mother Road,” “Birth of Violence” and “Little Grave” were particularly memorable in the live setting. The latter of which might have been the best song of the night with its desperate vocals and delicate finger picked guitar. Her main set closed with “Highway,” a fairly simple and direct, but successful song that almost recalls singer-songwriter artists from the early 1970s.
Eschewing her recent heavier records, the rest of her set was complimented by songs from her earlier albums. She opened with a gorgeous version of “Flatlands,” from the wonderful Unknown Rooms, her entirely acoustic album from 2012. Of her previous releases, that one received the most attention during the performance. Also from Unknown Rooms, “The Way We Used To” was her encore and final song of the evening. It didn’t really matter what she played as Wolfe is one of those rare artists who doesn’t have any songs on her records that you want to skip. From start to finish, her live show was just as engaging as her studio recordings are.
Other highlights were the spare and lovely “Cousins of the Antichrist” from her first LP, The Grime and the Glow (2010) and “Sick” from her masterpiece, Pain is Beauty (2013). She also included a couple of well-chosen covers during her performance on Wednesday. Roky Erickson’s delightful and deranged “Night of the Vampire” was performed in the middle of the set and a few songs later, she played what she introduced was her favorite Joni Mitchell song, the wistful and reflective “Woodstock.”
Birth of Violence
The Mother Road
Be All Things
Cousins of the Antichrist
Pale on Pale
Night of the Vampire (Roky Erickson cover)
Deranged for Rock & Roll
Woodstock (Joni Mitchell cover)
Preface to a Dream Play
The Way We Used To