The sun had just set last Thursday night as Perl Wolfe and her group took the stage on the roof of the JCC Manhattan, but it was a new day for the singer-songwriter.
A co-founder and lead singer of the Bulletproof Stockings, which made a splash in recent years for being an indie rock band comprised of Orthodox women from Crown Heights (and for playing for women-only crowds), Wolfe was debuting her new band, Perl. Two of her ex-Stockings bandmates — cellist Ellisheva Maister and violinist Dana Pestun — joined Wolfe, just a few months after she and Stockings’ co-founder, drummer Dalia Schusterman, parted ways.
“It’s incredible to see so many people here, Wolfe said, placing her microphone into its stand. “We’ve had a month to get this together.”
Gliding her fingers over the keyboard, Wolfe, wearing a floral dress and pink Converse, embraced a synesthetic approach on the song “Humble Hill.”
“I saw the sounds that day / I heard the colors too,” she sang.
Perl did not shy away from sonic risks, changing instruments and time signatures frequently and fluidly. On the song “Subside,” Wolfe moved from the keyboard to the front of stage, throwing a guitar strap over her shoulder. “I will never subside. / I won’t ever stop fighting,” she sang, her vocal cadences rising and falling in harmony with the chord progression of Pestun, who swapped her violin for an electric guitar.
In addition to performing new material, Perl played some Bulletproof Stockings’ favorites like “Vagabond’s Wagon” and “Off Track.”
The crowd, a mix of young, old, secular and religious women, many in funky, flowing skirts, sipped wine and listened to a mix of popular indie rock bands, including Alt-J and The Drums.
“I’ve been a fan of Perl’s since she was in Bulletproof Stockings,” said Erin Hagan, a folk-rock musician. “She’s so magnetic as a performer. One time I was watching her and her eyes were closed; you can just tell she was in her own space, and that she’s sharing that with all of us is really important.”
Megan Whitman, the director of arts and ideas at the JCC, was eager to allow Wolfe to share her new music. “When I spoke with Perl post-Bulletproof Stockings, she was saying it might be too soon for a venue to take a risk on a new band. I said, ‘That’s what we’re here for.’ I really believe in her talent; she has an incredibly beautiful voice. Once people hear it, they’re gonna love it.”
The concert opened with Emilia Cataldo, who is the musician behind the project Nehedar. Informed by the Jewish mystical school of thought, Cataldo refused to adhere to the confines of a single genre, performing songs that echoed elements of rock, pop, and folk.
Cataldo, who saw Wolfe perform with Bulletproof Stockings at Webster Hall, sees the all-female show as “similar to the concept of a mechitza” because music is “very spiritual.”
In an interview with The Jewish Week a few weeks before the show, Wolfe said the new group would be pulling back some from the Stockings’ sound. And that was evident last week as the music seemed more pared down.
“One of things we’re all working towards is having a lot more control and nuance,” said Maister. “We want to add some more layers, maybe a little bit more complexity.”
After the performance, Wolfe chatted and took selfies with fans.“This was by far the most relaxed I’ve felt at a show, and the most honest and comfortable,” she said.