Aby Wolf’s music has changed dramatically since the earnest, hip-hop-tinged folk music of her debut album Sweet Prudence, released three years ago. Her new outfit, A. Wolf & Her Claws, trades in acoustic guitars for synthesizers and laptops, crafting entrancing indie electronica. The singer has lost none of her winning personality, though, and if Friday night’s show at Hell’s Kitchen is any indication, she’s actually ratcheted up her charisma to new levels, bolstered by a great new band of local musicians and a poppier, more straightforward songwriting approach.
Hell’s Kitchen is an odd place for shows—even with space cleared out in front of the stage it’s hard to shake the vibe that you’re at a restaurant rather than a music venue. Still, the sound system is top notch, and A. Wolf & Her Claws and the other two bands that shared Friday night’s bill used the space’s low-key intimacy to their advantage, turning in inspired but quite different performances.
Openers Vouka seemed to suffer from sound-check issues and a few false starts, and their music relied on complex layers of sound that didn’t always seem to gel comfortably. Once the set got going, however, the quartet delivered a set of charmingly emotive and kinetic electronica, with a couple of ballads and strange ambient tracks offering a chance of pace from time to time.
The next band, Father You See Queen, offered a stark change of atmosphere with a set of bleak, strange post-rock. Bathed in red light, Mark McGee (formerly of To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie) hunched over a table of electronics while singer Nicole Tollefson wailed and murmured into a microphone, her face often shrouded in hair. The performance primarily consisted of ominous and minimal electronic music anchored by deep, cavernous kick drums and dotted with arrhythmic shards of white noise. The last few tracks that the duo performed, however, were steadier and less abrasive, giving Tollefson’s voice a chance to shine amid ripples of atmospheric percussion. All in all, it was a spellbinding set.
When A. Wolf & Her Claws took the stage, the audience finally stepped away from their tables and began to crowd the space that had been cleared away in front of the stage, and with good reason. Not only was the freshly formed quartet’s music the most accessible and danceable of the night, but Aby Wolf also proved a naturally charismatic frontwoman, feeding off the crowd’s ever-building energy. Much of the set consisted of the same brand of slow-burning electro-pop of just-released single “Zero to 60,” which proved a highlight of the band’s set. One number she performed threw a definite sonic curveball, with Wolf adopting a talk-singing style not far removed from her friend and collaborator Dessa. The group also earned cheers for a lovely cover of Sade’s “No Ordinary Love.”
The set’s highlight, however, came from when the band played a seemingly untitled new song. Aby asked for forgiveness in advance in case she or the band messed up, but none was needed—the short, captivating number earned raucous applause, and she seemed genuinely touched and humbled by the crowd’s enthusiasm. As the night wound down, the band was called back up for what seemed to be a genuinely unplanned encore—Aby even had to ask the sound guy if she could continue!
Aby Wolf has long been a stylistic chameleon, but Friday night’s show demonstrated a stunning degree of confidence and comfort in her new sound. I can only assume that when A. Wolf & Her Claws hit the stage again for their CD release show at the Cedar on April 21, their music will sound even better.