by Sunny Eckerle
We left Glasslands close to midnight. Angel Olsen finished up, we said our good-byes to friends also meandering out, and headed back to the Bedford stop on the L. My boyfriend and I walked a good 4 blocks before either of us dared wanting or trying to articulate our thoughts on the show.
That was the effect Angel Olsen had on the crowd at Glasslands last night. After the two bands preceding her failed to catch my interest, I was starting to fall asleep on my feet. Tired, hungry, and fading, I was pleasantly surprised at how not only I but the entire room sprang back to life at the sight of just Angel’s amp on stage, ready and waiting. Everyone pushed forward an almost indiscernible step, took slightly shallower breaths, and craned their necks expectantly.
The room hummed with a quiet electricity as we waited. She took the stage, plugged in, and started with “Miranda”. The room was eerily quiet, completely silenced by one girl and one guitar. At one point during her set I heard someone whisper his drink order to the bartender. I have never been at a show where an entire band, much less one person, has had such a commanding effect on the room, especially not at a venue like Glasslands.
There is a colossal difference between being an understated performer and not being a performer at all. Angel Olsen is without a doubt the former, although some might mistake her for the latter. I’ve seen a fair amount of bands in which the singer is simply not a performer. Not to say they can’t sing or play, but they fail to hold attention or guide the room along the musical journey they’re asking people to take with them. I’ve seen bands who’ve sounded great yet failed to draw me in, to make me part of their creation and that ultimately lessens a live performance.
Rarely did Angel speak with the audience, only twice did she announce what the coming song was called, and never did she introduce herself. Yet the control she had over the crowd and the attentiveness she was receiving was unbelievable. Her every move, every lovable sly half-smile, even her moments of looking seemingly lost and sad, glassy-eyed and distant on a particular lyric or line, drew us into the world she was creating. I, for one, did not want to leave.
As for the actual sound, it was shockingly beautiful, as always. Many of the songs were from her new full-length, Half Way Home. There were a few that were older, and one that’d I’d never heard but hope to hear again soon. Her voice sounded clear and strong throughout her range of volume, which is vast. Often, she sang the songs differently than she does on her record, drawing out her almost yodel-like coos or unexpectedly dropping to barely a whisper for parts sung strong and loud in the album versions. It was refreshing and interesting to hear her playing with the style, thinking about the music and not just going through the motions to get through it. Details as small as her subtly stepping back from the microphone when she pushed her vocals louder are examples of why she is such an amazing live musician. She clearly knows what she’s doing, how to make the most of her already incredible voice, and how to keep the crowd closely and happily along for the ride.
If you have the opportunity to see Angel Olsen, I don’t only recommend it, I insist upon it. Seeing a show like hers happens far too rarely. In the words of my boyfriend last night, she is a gem.
Setlist: Provided by Benjamin Ratliff (The New York Times). Thank you Ben! Read his article here.
- The Waiting
- Some Things Cosmic
- Drunk & With Dreams
- Stars Are Out (unreleased)
- Lonely Universe
- The Sky Opened Up
- Safe In The Womb
- Always Half Strange