Chelsea Wolfe’s North American tour in support of her latest album, Hiss Spun, her heaviest and most personal release to date, landed her in Portland on a brisk autumn night. Performing a sold-out show at Wonder Ballroom, the venue was reasonably packed, an increasingly common trend with touring bands passing through the growing city.
Opening up the night was Youth Code, an LA-based industrial dance duo comprised of Sara Taylor and Ryan George, with bombastic beats and a fittingly spasmodic stage presence. Taylor menacingly stalked the stage in a black tee-shirt that unapologetically read “EAT MY FUCK” screaming into a mic with a surprisingly deep bellow, while George stood behind a soundboard, working the knobs and providing backing vocals.
After a short intermission to catch our breaths, showgoers stood in heavy anticipation as stage lights gradually came up and shrill guitar feedback poured from a briefly darkened platform. This signaled the beginning of “Spun,” the first track from Hiss Spun, and Chelsea and company showcased a tight dynamic that came from countless practice sessions and performances leading up to the end of tour Portland show. Chelsea’s ethereal croon floated through the auditorium as the gravity heavy bass tones followed the drum work of Jess Gowrie, Chelsea’s long-time friend and musical collaborator, who was specifically brought onboard for this latest collection of songs.
Next, they performed early singles “16 Psyche” and “Vex,” as if following the album’s tracklist. The latter, which features the guttural vocals of ISIS/Sumac frontman Aaron Turner on the record, received assistance from Youth Code’s Sara Taylor, whose growls provided an admirable substitution for the tour.
We jumped forward to a midway track from Hiss Spun before Chelsea took a dip back into Abyss, her preceding 2015 release, invoking characteristic electronic elements featured on the album through tracks “Carrion Flowers” and “After the Fall.”
The articulated light rack cast the stage with a variety of tones that complemented the dynamic flow of energy from song to song, as Chelsea weaved through tracks from earlier releases, Apokalypsis and Pain is Beauty, including personal favorites “Feral Love” and “The Warden.”
The band returned to Hiss Spun once more with “The Culling” before departing the stage to an uproar of thankful cheers and applause.
After a short delay, Chelsea returned to the dimly-lit stage alone for an intimate rendition of The Grime and the Glow’s “Halfsleeper,” her band joining her on stage as the song approached its climax.
The set ultimately concluded with Hiss Spun’s final track, “Scrape,” and Chelsea thanked the crowd, waving goodbye before the house lights came on.
Performances were focused with bursts of energy coming through at appropriate moments. The sound levels were dialed-in but perhaps a bit shallow with the lead guitar at times. As with previous experiences watching Chelsea perform, the emotional impact came through and left a thoroughly bewitched audience in anticipation of the siren’s return to the northwest.