Laura Wolf threw Cafe Nine for a loop Monday night. Then another loop. Then another.
With just a cello, plus a closet full of gadgets, the touring Brooklyn musician opened an acoustic Manic Monday triple bill at the Crown Street club by introducing original songs in progress that rely on a carefully cultivated mix of voice, cello, and loops.
She surprised a crowd preparing to hear two straight-ahead Americana bands with a hypnotic one-woman set that sounded like a full band. And she stole the night.
Wolf, a 27-year-old Hartford native taking a break from graduate studies in Chinese medicine, has been developing an immersive sound that develops gradually from a percussive track with various cello parts laid above it, topped off with roaming ethereal vocals reminiscent of Kate Bush. Like one of her main childhood influences, Joanna Newsom, Wolf has taken a “classical” instrument — harp in Newsom’s case, cello in this case — and adapted it to a crossover genre suitable for club audiences.
She introduced herself before her set, dived into a series of songs in progress, standing to sing and bow, maneuvering pedals to record lines, bending to the floor to adjust the sound. She maneuvered gadgets at least as much as she plucked or bowed her cello.
Wolf spoke again, briefly, only at the end of the set. By that time, a sense of awe had swept the room. Setting up for the next set, the frontman for the Meadows Brothers wondered how he was going to follow her.
Outside the club, Wolf revealed her recipe for baking a song. (You can watch the full interview at the bottom of this file.)
“To layer the rhythmic component first,” she said, “I either use a delay pedal or have sort of a melodic rhythmic bass line. I have that synched up to my sampler, which also is a sequencer. So I can take sounds and arrange them into a percussive pattern.
“I have a loop pedal. I have my cello. It’s feeding into a pedal board, which is just a bunch of effects. I have delay, reverb, buzz. That all feeds into a loop pedal…. It just keeps playing over and over again. It’s a bit of a tap dance. I’m playing with my feet as much as my cello.
“The next thing is a cool melodic line. The cello and the voice do play together quite a bit.”
The songs she brought to Cafe Nine are works in progress. None appear on the CDs she had on sale. In Providence and Portland and Boston, then in New Haven, and now on to Brattleboro and Burlington and Rochester, she’s refining her latest compositions as part of her performance.
Here’s what one of the songs sounded like in progress Monday night at Cafe NIne.
Here’s what a finished Laura Wolf song sounds like.
And here’s what the Shoreline-bred-and-based Meadows Brothers sounded like when they succeeded her on the Cafe Nine stage before the touring band Honeysuckle took the stage. The brothers followed Laura Wolf just fine.