Live Review: Emily Wells gives a neo-classical pop masterclass at Great Scott


Even the winter rain couldn’t keep Allston away from Great Scott last night (Wednesday, February 3), where a crowd of people celebrated Emily Wells and Promise, the Texas multi-instrumentalist’s record that dropped just last week. In some ways, it was the perfect weather for an evening of Wells’ gorgeous, sad music, but the faces of the people in the crowd sported their annoyance at the weather. By the time the show started, the skies had cleared and fast-moving clouds sailed by overhead, glowing a slight orange in the night sky. It was a picture perfect moment for the show to start.

First up was Brooklyn-based synth artist Lorna Dune. An accomplished keyboardist, having been dubbed “the mistress of new music” by Vice and having performed with the likes of the Philip Glass Orchestra, she delighted in taking the audience through a journey of the synthesizer’s history. Chiptune chirps merged with Quincy Jones’ rolling basslines ripped right from Thriller, while her later tracks echoed the droning soundtracks of filmmaker John Carpenter, who Dune greatly admires. Most of the tracks she played came from an upcoming record, Transmutation. The audience seemed to be stuck half-way between dancing and standing still, with the notable exception of Wells herself, who busted a move near the soundboard while Dune took the stage. Later on, she admitted that she “brought [Dune] along so [she] could selfishly dance” to Dune’s music before playing her own set.

After an extremely short intermission, Wells took the stage, and began playing her violin. Her set-up is a fascinating one. Wells is surrounded by a semi-circle of her instruments, and describing her as a classical one-man band doesn’t feel quite appropriate but is totally fitting. A keyboard in front of her, a partial drum set to the right (the cymbal so close that her elbow can hit it when she pulls on her violin), it’s incredibly efficient and makes the assembly of her music all the more impressive. She is a classically trained violinist, and her ability is nearly unrivaled. Her voice, as well, is incredible, packed full of feeling and emotion, but capable of so much more than just crooning — her verse on Stoker soundtrack cut “Becomes the Color” is three clicks away from being set over an honest-to-god hip hop beat. Her goth-styled songs are amongst her best, and a song like “Mama’s Gonna Give You Love” refines and purifies the intense slow-burn that’s come to the forefront of pop-goth in recent years.

Throughout the show, Wells’ dog, a 12-year-old pit bull named Oly, sat to the right of the stage on a little bed, and the dog seemed to be lulled into a peaceful trance by its master’s voice. The same could also be said of the audience; during Wells’ first vocal performance without backing, the entire club was as quiet as a church mouse, something that rarely ever happens at a venue like Great Scott. She transfixes with her incredible skill, deftly mixing and mastering all of her tunes directly in front of us. At one moment, she’s a conductor of a fully-stocked string section, at the next, she’s commanding a choir of her own voice.

It was all helped by the size of the club and the audience; it feels like a steal to be seeing her with a hundred other people in a tiny room where she’s just three or four feet above you. On songs like encore delight “Fair Thee Well & the Requiem Mix” (which Wells dubbed her sixth symphony), her voice compliments the deep sadness of the strings in a way that makes you feel like you have cement bricks on your chest, that you’re struggling to breathe through all the feeling.

Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus. Featured photo by Johnston for Vanyaland.