At the beginning of the night, the main floor of The Chapel, a converted mortuary on Valencia street is empty. The venue, with red-lit lamps and 40’ foot ceilings is stunning.
Before Ms. Wells takes the stage, the dreamscape sounds of Emily Neveu open the night.. “The other Emily,” as Ms. Neveu refers to herself with a dry delivery manages to break up the initially cold atmosphere that the venue delivers.
Performance spaces set the tone for performers, informing the audience of the aural programming as much as the acoustics. A space like the Chapel is a tough venue to open. Filling a room, sparse with audience is no easy feat, especially with the only open bar in the two-room space is the one outside the performance area. Neveu’s set manages to warm the space and coupled with her sarcastic wit between songs, they set the stage for Emily Well’s entry.
As our main act steps on stage, the room becomes instantly quiet. The murmuring of her fans stops. They are captivated before she even begins. She transfixes audiences with her musicianship, the kind of performer who makes a room quiet the second she begins. She’s a storyteller, and her audience is eager for a tale.
On stage is a drum, pedals, keys, and a violin all manipulated by her into a tapestry of sound. She weaves together a combination of the poetic and the everyday. Her observances are unpretentious narratives.
Behind her, a film of Pina Bausch plays silently. Well’s set is the live accompaniment that makes Bausch’s movements audible. Between layers of melody and textures, Well’s shares moments from her journeys. After each song, the audience moves in closer, reveling in her stories of being on the road.
The acoustics of The Chapel are ideal for this symphony of one. The reverberation of looped violin, mixed with excerpts from classical repertoire that acts as liaisons between songs feels authentic in a hall reminiscent of a cathedral.
Tonight we’re her passengers.
This article is long overdue. Meant to be published after I saw her perform at SF’s “The Chapel,” on October 21st, 2015.