Chelsea Wolfe & Emma Ruth Rundle @ The Manning Bar: The Show Must Go On
Guest reviewer / photographer Jeremy Belinfante (@jeremybelinfante) Chelsea Wolfe and Emma Ruth Rundle @ The Manning Bar, 17/06/2022 Chelsea Wolfe and Emma Ruth Rundle’s long-awaited tour of Australia appeared hamstrung from the start. Originally planned for June 2020, the tour was postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic and ongoing border restrictions. Fast forward two years and just as the artists finally hit Australian shores, promoter Bird’s Robe Collective announced that Emma Ruth Rundle had fallen ill and lost her voice, leaving Chelsea Wolfe to perform Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth alone in shows beset by technical and logistical problems.
As the beleaguered expedition hit Sydney, the Bird’s Robe team sent word that Emma Ruth Rundle had somewhat recovered and was ready to re-join the tour. Chelsea Wolfe’s guitarist Ben Chisholm had, however, had now fallen ill – requiring Wolfe to hastily pivot to a more intimate, acoustic presentation that would necessitate a complete overhaul of her setlist.
Arriving at the sold-out venue, a long line of punters could be seen snaking around the block, braving the winter chill in exchange for the opportunity to see Emma Ruth Rundle’s first ever Australian set. An excited and nervous charge thrummed from fan to fan, with no one knowing exactly what either artist would bring to the evening.
Emma Ruth Rundle emerged for her first performance of the tour to a tremendous, swooning ovation. Backlit by a single spotlight, it was clear Rundle wanted to withdraw on stage and let her music take the prime focus. Photographers were barred entrance from the security / photo pit due to concerns from the artists surrounding illness. Navigating a sold-out Manning Bar with a backpack full of lenses while shooting largely backlit performances of intimate, acoustic music proved a challenging scenario.
Rundle’s set opened with ‘Return’ from her recent album Engine of Hell, and she proceeded to perform most of the material from that record, concluding with a harrowing rendition of the title track from her 2016 solo album 'Marked for Death'. The haunting, melancholic folk arrangements had a beguiling and abrupt power - immediately catchy and impactful, but also vulnerable, tender, and even fragile. A singer songwriter glass cannon.
Although promoted as an electric full band set, Chelsea Wolfe took to the stage as a solo artist, playing primarily acoustic material. Given the last time she performed on the Australian mainland was over a decade ago, this decision may have disappointed some – however, most attendees appeared receptive and understanding. The spontaneity of the format change, coupled with the rare opportunity to see Chelsea Wolfe in vulnerable, off-the-cuff singer-songwriter mode seemed to create a kinetic energy in the room – with punters affording Wolfe the same reverence and focus they did Emma Ruth Rundle.
Though her lighting was a little more elaborate than Rundle’s, Chelsea performed almost entirely backlit, choosing to sink into the shadowed embrace of the stage. Highlights included ‘Deranged for Rock & Roll’ and a chilling cover of the Roky Erickson classic ‘Night of the Vampire’ - both from her most recent album Birth of Violence (the Erickson cover was a bonus track for the Japanese release). Whilst I personally didn’t really connect with the studio version of ‘Deranged for Rock & Roll’, in this setting I found the bare-boned vulnerability of the track infectious as hell. It echoed in my head for a week. The cloying confidentiality of the performance gave it a much more sinister, subversive spirit than the album.
Whether it was the cold, the longing for live music (at long last!) or the strange circumstances of the tour - there was an ethereal, ghostly heaviness to the night’s performances that had far more weight than any metal band amplification could provide. An evening of music as unsettling as it was euphoric. Not the advertised concert, granted – but something more, something “other”. And after years of cancellations and complications - only an asshole could complain.