A dark shadow washed over the room as Seattle's Faith Coloccia and Aaron Turner unfurled their Mamiffer compositions, spiritually entangled drones with effects-laden noise that conjures a world in which Julianna Barwick and Merzbow joined Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra. Their sound was eerily akin to the red and purple-hued fog that smothered the space.
The wildly bearded Turner teased lengthy moans and distortions from a clear electric guitar and a coffin of knobs, while Coloccia sat at a station with effects and organ and piano timbres coming from a Korg keyboard, occasionally adding her delayed, wistful vocals to their sparse, slowly evolving post-rock experiments. The crowd were too restless to allow their music the space it needed to be truly appreciated, as the duo received mostly chatter during their performance and a brief, respectable applause afterwards, but it was a formidable performance.
Headliner Chelsea Wolfe has made the trek from California to Vancouver every year since 2011, headlining her last three shows at the Biltmore Cabaret, Media Club and Electric Owl, but this was her biggest venue and crowd in the city yet, filling the lower bowl of the continually improving Rickshaw Theatre on a Wednesday night (September 30). Granted, I may have prematurely predicted her predicted festival headlining status in my review of her 2012 show at the Biltmore, but slow and steady wins the race, and she is still on pace.
Wolfe's band, consisting of bassist/keyboardist Ben Chisholm, guitarist Aurielle Zeitler and drummer Dylan Fujioka, arrived onstage first to build the ambiance for "Carrion Flowers," the opening track from her 2015 album, Abyss. Wolfe appeared shortly thereafter, and dug right into character, twisting and swaying to the music. As the track's first big doom riff hit, she picked up her guitar and added to the overdriven texture, an intentionally lingering feedback smoothing the transition to "Dragged Out," which boasted a sludge riff as murky and heavy as the Mariana Trench. She'd said that she wanted her new album to translate well in a live setting, and it sure as hell did.
Unfortunately, there were a couple hiccups that hindered the overall effectiveness of the show. Possibly due to a cold or the incessant plumes from the fog machine, Wolfe coughed between tracks early on, and it seemingly added a rasp to her voice by "After the Fall." More noticeably, when the band got into playing "We Hit a Wall," a well-recognized track from 2013's Pain is Beauty, Zeitler's guitar went dead part way through.
It was hard to tell why, exactly, but her guitar seemed to be shaky from that point on. It was notably absent from "Survive," her sonic barrage entering earshot infrequently throughout, which effectively dampened the dynamic shift to its crescendo as well as their first encore track, "Color of Blood." Thankfully, her tone was mostly present for their final track, "Pale on Pale" from her breakout 2011 album Ἀποκάλυψις, as her abstract, high end sound is a very important part of the song's texture, as Chisholm provided the low end and Wolfe hit the mids.
Sound problems aside, Wolfe's band were there for her every step of the way. Chisholm made the bass look like the coolest instrument in the band, while Zeitler did her best supporting on guitar and backing vocals. Most impactful, Fujioka added significant depth on the drums, making "Mer" sound far more crushing live than it does on record.
Wolfe maintained her rather introverted, distanced cool stage presence. She broke her banter blackout only to deliver a short thank you 40 minutes into their set, followed up by another sentence or two near the end of their set. Despite a slight raspy quality creeping into her vocals, she brought every ounce of her distinctive, otherworldly vibrato to singing though, hitting the high notes in "Grey Days" with stunning clarity.
When Wolfe put down the guitar to sing on "House of Metal," the song's canned strings triggered by foot pedal, she was freed up to prowl the front of the stage, reaching out toward the crowd and making more eye contact than before. As "Pale on Pale" worked its way to a conclusion at the end of the encore, with Zeitler and Fujioka grinding it out while Chisholm tweaked knobs, Wolfe fell to her knees and screamed into her guitar pickups, a final moment of theatricality that continues the indication of bigger things to come.