One of the most remarkable things about Angel Olsen is how unremarkable she could come across. Pass her on the street, chat to her in the supermarket queue, she’ll be the same. Standing in front of thousands at Heimathafen, she’s completely normal – except for the fact that she’s utterly extraordinary.
“It’s hot in here” and “thanks for coming” is as chatty as she gets. She’s not shy, but she doesn’t mess around on the mic. Angel Olsen knows what she’s here for, she knows what she does best.
So when the band strikes up (vocalist & right hand woman Heather and two backing guitarists, bass, drums) she doesn’t mess around. From supermarket queue to supersinger in a second, she adopts an unnerving and unwavering, heavy-lidded gaze. She has our full attention, whatever she says.
Unforgettable voice, forgettable arrangements
The best instrument on stage is Angel’s voice, by quite some distance. She lilts through her unpretentious lyrics and it sounds almost lazy but carefully crafted, like a folk singer. And suddenly, without an eyelid’s flicker, she hits a full-bodied high note in the way only Angel can. There’s a characteristic voice break that she uses in big moments; you can just about hear it on record, but when it’s live, you just can’t get enough of it.
The evening is all about her, as a songwriter, as a singer, as the world’s most mercurial indie-rock treasure. The downside of this is that the band doesn’t give us anything like the wild energy we want from a rock concert. They play quite clinically, not wanting to upstage the frontwoman (like they could if they tried!). The instrumental breaks are underwhelming, hemmed in.
As a result the Angel Olsen show doesn’t particularly progress between open and close. And with the quality of her songwriting and her popularity, she pulls it off. It’s a devoted crowd, we just want to hear our Angel. But it could have been more splendid.
That said, there are two exquisitely balanced long numbers towards the end which you wouldn’t find on record. As the arrangement develops, it slowly leans towards dream pop. It’s testament to Angel’s mastery of ‘sound’. While she never errs too far from her minimal, indie-rock roots, an Angel Olsen record stays fresh and keeps you listening again and again. I, for one, haven’t stopped spinning them since.
Student small fry, country boy in the big city, with inky fingers and a travel guitar.