A Blaze in the Northwestern Sky: Chelsea Wolfe and King Dude

Case Studies/King Dude/Chelsea Wolfe
The Triple Door, Seattle WA
1.14.13


Since the arrival of our son, The Wolf, we have been left with diminished opportunities to attend musical rituals. Thankfully, the stars aligned allowing Mrs. Games and me a night out to see this exceptional line up in a rather tony venue.

The Triple Door is a full seated venue in the heart of Seattle. Booths and table are arranged in a tiered horseshoe with the red trimmed stage as the centerpiece. Black clad wait staff offer dinner and drinks service throughout the performance. The venue reads equal parts David Lynch and a late Wiemar Republic cafe, perfect for King Dude and Chelsea Wolfe.

The evening began with Case Studies, the moniker of Jesse Lortz’s (the duke of The Duchess and the Duke fame) solo project. Lortz has been acclaimed for both his painting as well as his musicianship and I was interested to hear him play. I wasn’t really blown away by his performance which may owe to my lack of familiarity with his recent work. The lyrical content and some of the musicianship attempts to evoke Leonard Cohen. My impression, at least on this night, was that it owed a bit more to some of John Lennon’s middling solo work. Lortz performance was certainly heartfelt and his offerings were well received by sections of the audience. For my part, I remained more engaged with the vegetarian fare Mrs. Games and I selected for dinner.

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King Dude’s performance was something I had eagerly anticipated. I have seen TJ Cowgill’s previous band, Book of Black Earth, on many occasions and was intrigued when I learned of his new project. The records were a pleasant surprise and I was interested in how, both musically and visually, it would translate live.

Cowgill’s deep knowledge of the occult, esoteric magic, and Gnosticism was a fixture in the lyrics of Book of Black Earth and lends much to King Dude. The band, Cowgill accompanied by Nicholas Friesen intermittently on floor tom and guitar, was framed by a massive and blackened American flag. The flag was bordered by two candles guttering on stands. King Dude’s music is often compared to Death in June or Sol Invictus and I hear much of that in their work. Live, I was struck by how much they channel the darker aspects of American folk in the same vein as Nike Cave. I also heard a bit of Swans and Leonard Cohen. The evening’s performance drew primarily upon Love and Burning Daylight. The execution of the material was exquisite with Cowgill’s smoky rasps enhanced by the ominous tempo of the Friesen’s drumming.  The standout of the performance was the macabre sing a long of “Lucifer is the Light of the World.” Recorded the track is ominous; live it evokes a dark bit of whimsy. By the end of their performance it was clear why King Dude are so acclaimed.

Down came the flag and Chelsea Wolfe took the stage flanked by a violinist and keyboardist, all framed by the guttering candles. Wolfe’s black dress was set off a bit by the bouquet of white roses on her mic stand. The set was comprised mostly of her most recent release, the acoustic Unknown Rooms. Her impressive vocal range was clearly evident, one moment harmonizing with the violinist and the next soaring above the music. While her style is clearly different I was, at times, reminded of Kate Bush’s finer moments during Wolfe’s performance. Towards the end of the set Cowgill joined Wolfe on stage for an excellent rendition of King Dude’s “My Mother was the Moon”.

On balance the performance was excellent and the venue seemed to enhance the atmosphere. Mrs. Games and I contently left the theater into the night’s enveloping darkness. It seemed an apt extension of the evening’s vibe.

– Captain of Games

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