If in the past Chelsea Wolfe has been called a “siren” and a “goddess,” atop the stage at Irving Plaza on Tuesday she was a towering banshee. Swathed in lengths of white cotton – with matching, armpit-high gauntlets, might I add – Wolfe commanded the sold-out crowd with pointed intensity. Wolfe’s tour comes hot on the heels of her 2017 LP Hiss Spun, and by the looks of ticket sales and the gargantuan purple tour bus parked outside Irving Plaza, must be going quite well.
Hiss Spun is Wolfe’s latest offering on longtime label Sargent House. The record is deeply varied, textural, and above all else: heavy. Part of Wolfe’s allure is her ability to craft dark and gruesome instrumental landscapes – often craggy and unwelcoming – and then invite the listener in with her radiant voice. It is a contrast that bodes surprisingly well live. Wolfe is one of those singers whose live vocals not only do the record justice – they sound better, somehow, in person.
As one would hope, Wolfe is an austere performer; she barely says a word between songs. Her black-clad backing band do their work with fervor and excitement, but never distract from the great white witch at center stage, piercing us with charcoal-rimmed eyes. They played a generous hour-plus set, bookending favorites from previous records, like “Carrion Flowers” and “Feral Love,” with material from Hiss Spun.
Wolfe treated us to a two-song encore, beginning with a solo acoustic performance of “Halfsleeper,” from her 2010 debut. Her isolated voice was all the more staggering, and even spooky given the season. It was only then that I noticed a large black “sun” suspended above her like a dark totem. Soon Wolfe’s band rejoined her, plunging into the heady sendoff of “Scrape,” awash in distortion. As she floated off the stage, it was apparent that Chelsea Wolfe’s performances allow her to embody many things – she’s a siren, goddess, and banshee all at once.