Monday, 18 August 2014

Deafheaven and Chelsea Wolfe at The Garage - 15 August 2014

Deafheaven by Robert Loerzel

Tonight’s gig is terrific. But it wouldn’t have happened at all if the Jabberwocky Festival hadn’t gone belly up at the last minute in a welter of unpaid debts and ill-will.

The fallout from this debacle is that many of the acts that had been due to play are scrambling around London to find somewhere to play. I’m lucky to score a ticket to one of these hastily arranged events.

The Garage stage goes dark and a severe looking figure emerges from the shadows. This is Chelsea Wolfe and the laughter stops here.

Accompanied by a violinist, drummer and bassist, Wolfe commences a set of great intensity and an all-enveloping sense of desolation.

With her black lined eyes, straight dark hair and cloak like garb, Wolfe resembles a seer or witch from a fantasy like Game of Thrones. She’s hypnotic. She radiates power.

Her set is at its most compelling when she grabs a guitar herself. The music then shifts from dirge to something jauntier. Still funereal, but you would have to walk quite fast to keep up with the hearse.

I find Chelsea Wolfe far more engaging as a live proposition than on record. Not only do some very good songs emerge - “We Hit a Wall” and “Feral Love” stand out, but she is a charismatic presence.

Wolfe leaves the stage and her drummer suddenly bursts out with a five minute solo. It’s almost as if all his pent up emotion has to be exorcised before he departs.

Deafheaven cemented their place in fan boy hearts with last year’s ‘Sunbather’ album, a beguiling mix of black metal and post rock that came complete with a lurid pink sleeve. I note from their merchandise table that all their T shirts are regulation metal-black with approved, almostunreadable logos.

The band look very unprepossessing, trudging on in jeans and T shirts, one of which, celebrating Morrissey’s “Your Arsenal” may be a reference to the football team that holds sway in this area of London.

Singer George Clarke is cut from a different cloth completely. With his slicked back short hair and nattily cut shirt he resembles some fifties matinee idol. Until the band start playing and all hell cuts loose.

On record, Deafheaven’s songs tend towards the lengthy, with different passages of piano, or acoustic delicacy breaking up the full sonic onslaught and screaming that characterises the band at full throttle.

Once Clarke starts singing, all impressions change. Within seconds he is bent double, and spitting lyrics in a machine gun rapid-fire guttural roar. By the second song, Clarke is crowd surfing around the venue, hollering like a demon.

In the live setting it becomes apparent that the quieter parts serve very little purpose other than to give Clarke a momentary breather, as he uses these moments to get the crowd clapping, or to repeatedly exhort the crowd towards him.. Everyone piles forward, arms are waved and devil horn hand gestures are everywhere.

For the next hour the energy that the band generates is something to behold, with tracks like “Dream House”, “Sunbather” and From the Kettle Onto the Coil” really striking home. The crowd is bathed in sweat and the walls fairly pulse with the pleasure of the occasion.

It’s been a splendid night’s entertainment. Small consolation if you had booked for Jabberwocky, but an excellent opportunity to see two fine bands for the rest of us.