Seeing Angel Olsen live for the first time was an enthralling experience. Walking into the venue, one wouldn’t think that such a classy, captivating and cohesive performance with undertones of 1960’s nostalgia would gel so well with the grimy, industrial appeal of Motion. Olsen’s band were decked in their trademark grey-suit-and-bolo-tie combination which, combined with a relatively simple stage setup, harked back to a 60’s-era pop performance. For the majority of the set, the audience were on their best behaviour. Aside from the occasional bit of between-song banter between Olsen and crowd members, the audience waited patiently in eager anticipation of each song as it came and only made noise when each song was decidedly finished. Olsen even acknowledged how “quiet you all are”, seemingly appreciative of the undivided attention the audience was giving her.
The set felt very substantial. I left the show wanting more while simultaneously very satisfied with what she and her band delivered. The diverse set list of songs, taken mostly from MY WOMAN with a few from Burn Your Fire for No Witness and Half Way Home, felt very dynamic, offering satisfying climaxes contrasting with the more spacious, softer moments. Songs like ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’ and the opener, ‘Never Be Mine’ displayed Olsen at a peak of musical confidence, while the more atmospheric ‘Intern’ or ‘Acrobat’ beautifully illustrated just how effective she is at drawing the listener in with a compelling piece of mood music.
From a performance standpoint, the show was near-perfect. Never before have I witnessed a gig with a band so tight that the whole of MY WOMAN – Olsen’s career-defining album – might as well have been recorded using this live performance alone. All musicians involved played excellently, effortlessly bouncing off one another and capturing all the musical elements of each song to a tee. What’s more, the show had a stellar live mix that really brought the songs to life in a way that did justice to the fantastic production on record; no detail was omitted in the live translation
Olsen’s voice is unique, with its strange, warbling inflections
Speaking of performance, one of the most standout aspects of the show for me was Angel’s live vocals. From the delicate subtlety of her sweet falsetto to her pitch-perfect high notes, Olsen was on form. The vocals sounded all the more impressive in a live setting than on record as she flouted her unbelievable range without faltering once. I’ve always thought Olsen’s voice is unique, with its strange, warbling inflections and embellishments, but I seemed to only appreciate just how amazing it actually is seeing her perform first hand.
What threw me about the performance was the way Olsen acted on stage. She is a relatively subdued performer – no dance moves or intense facial expressions, just voice and guitar. At first I wondered if this mellower style might hinder the performance, especially given the very patient crowd. However as more songs rolled out and the set continued, both Olsen and the audience loosened up to the point where her stage presence actually benefited the performance. There were no distractions, just pure, unadulterated music. Olsen’s music is so compelling and wonderful that there’s no need to dress it up as anything more. She simply performed and delivered a very well crafted, well written set.