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Friday, November 24, 2017

Chelsea Wolfe: Live At Roadburn


1) Halfsleeper; 2) Movie Screen; 3) Demons; 4) Mer; 5) Tracks; 6) Noorus; 7) Moses; 8) Pale On Pale.

This short, almost EP-sized, limited edition, vinyl-only live album, recorded April 12, 2012 at the Roadburn rock festival in the Netherlands — an event that typically features nothing but authen­tic hard'n'heavy, so you can probably tell that she is being perfectly serious about it when saying "hello Roadburn, thanks for having us!" — anyway, this album, for all purposes, should be con­sidered a thoroughly redundant entry in the catalog, for dedicated fans only, if not for one reason: all of the songs here, and I really mean all of them, sound decidedly better than their studio counterparts. In fact, if you want to get a good introduction to what «early» or «classic» Chelsea Wolfe is all about, I strongly recommend Live At Roadburn over Apocalypse, with which it shares no fewer than six out of its eight tracks (the other two are from The Grime).

The reason for this is short and simple: while Chelsea and her band make relatively few adjust­ments to their material in the live setting, all the songs are inavoidably stripped of the extra production gimmicks that she seasons them with in the studio, so as to achieve a «darker», «more mysterious», «more psychedelic» effect. In particular, her vocals here are clean, sharp, and shrill, rather than driven through the usual wall of reverbs and echoes — well, there are still a few distor­tion effects on the mike here and there, perhaps achieved through simple amp overdriving, but the effort is always on making her singing audible rather than draping it in all sorts of sonic cobwebs. Ditto for the instruments: guitar and bass are not muffled as they usually are, but actually grunt and growl like living beings. ʽNoorusʼ in particular, originally recorded while the artist was still alleged to the lo-fi aesthetics, annihilates the studio version; but even the tracks from Apocalypse all improve on their counterparts.

The moral of this story is simple: deep in her heart, Chelsea Wolfe is more of a Patti Smith / Siouxsie Sioux person, best able to express herself with minimal means — strong voice and dark guitar — but not particularly apt when it comes to concocting complex, multi-layered atmo­spheres. In addition, the rawness and energy of the live performance helps make up for the deri­vative and not-too-imaginative character of the songs, at least as far as I can tell from the readings on my personal irrit-o-meter when it comes to comparing live and studio takes. I'd even go as far as to call this long acoustic version of ʽHalfsleeperʼ that opens the record very pretty, if not down­right mesmerizing in places — sure, it lacks the multi-tracked vocals and subdued ghostly harmonies of the original, but it also sounds so much more sharp and focused (there is also an extra atmospheric, post-rockish coda that is largely expendable, but does not ruin the overall im­pression of the song).

Granted, none of this makes out of Chelsea Wolfe a particularly amazing live performer: it is mainly an issue of getting her shitty studio ideas out of the way than a matter of mind-blowing rearrangements on the stage. But every so-so songwriter deserves a chance to elevate his or her songwriting to a higher level with whatever lies at hand — and it is good to know that Chelsea Wolfe at least has the benefit of a tight, tense, unmediated live show to prove her worth. I give the record a thumbs up and strongly encourage everybody to choose it over Apokalypsis, if you lack the means to own both.

1 comment:

  1. On the strength of your review I am going to buy the album :) p.s. I wonder what you'd think of Type o negative. I've always thought you'd enjoy them a lot.