Chelsea Wolfe I mean, and her opening act Thursday night was Ioanna Gika. It was exceptionally enjoyable, partly because nothing about it was wrong. Lovely music, great staging, good venue, exceptional sound. This happens rarely enough that it’s worth calling out when it does.

Chelsea Wolfe · Ms Wolfe has appeared on this blog multiple times. She has two modes: Acoustic, where the songs are ethereal splashes of complex slow-moving beauty; and electric, banshee keening nestled into a torrent of roaring guitar drone. Thursday night was sort of acoustic; Chelsea had an acoustic guitar and then a guy on keyboards and guitars.

Chelsea Wolfe
· · ·
Chelsea Wolfe

I’ve seen her perform twice now, and both times it’s been very… dark. Thematically and then visually. After four hours or so in her presence, I’m sure I wouldn’t recognize her on the street. It was challenging fun to photograph.

The music was not quite like her acoustic records, in that the musical backdrop was electric and synthetic, and dark like the room. Her melodies don’t orbit in your head for weeks, but the orchestration and raw beauty of the sound palette are formidable, and then she is a wonderful singer, voice full of grace and power with an astonishing high register that she pours out with no effort and exactly when the song’s flow needs it.

An unexpected pleasure was when she left her platform, sat down beside her accompanist and, to a minimal slow chord rhythm, performed Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, taking it pretty straight but digging deep into each note and soaring up into “we are golden…” — I got all emo.

Ioanna Gika · She wasn’t announced and I didn’t catch her name when she gave it, so I didn’t know who she was till I asked the Internet after the show. Like Chelsea, she performed with just a keyboard/guitar accompanist. Perhaps even the same one, there wasn’t enough light to tell. She had a minimal little device on a stand that could play keyboard, but what she mostly did with it was capture her own voice, load it up with reverb, then sing counterpoint against it.

Thalassa by Ioanna Gika

Her music was quite a bit more dynamic than Wolfe’s even if she didn’t bring that voodoo intensity. Listening to her, I thought of the Cocteau Twins, and of Enya, and heard prog-rock echoes too. I really, really liked it and bought her CD Thalassa from the merch table. It’s great, but I actually liked the concert performance better; more intense, more complex, riskier. And also because of the sound.

Audio wow · The show was at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver; I can’t remember the last time I was there, but it’s a nice room. I have to say this was the best live sound I’ve heard since the last time I heard unamplified acoustic music in a decent room, and I’ve never heard better live electric sound in my life that I can remember. I dunno what kind of microphones and signal chain they had, but the voices were full of three-dimensional artifacts, hints of chest and breath, not an atom of overload ever. Both women built huge low synth notes into their arrangements, placed with musical intelligence; these sounded like they were coming from the center of the earth, dark but crystal-clear.

More than a half-century into the era of live electric music, really great sound is still the exception not the rule. The touring-tech profession should be ashamed. And kudos to whoever did sound for the Wolfe/Gika gig.


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From: Walter Davis (Nov 24 2019, at 11:38)

I think you have the exception/rule backwards, but otherwise a great article. I love hearing music played well — and differently than the album — by people who really care about quality. There’s something so naked and personal about it that elevates it above the commercial.


From: tom (Nov 24 2019, at 13:21)

great post, as always.

did you inadvertently swap the sense of one of those last sentences: "great sound"..."rule, not exception" and "ashamed of itself"?

apologies if just I misread it.


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