Angel Olsen’s sold-out show at Huxley’s Neue Welt on January 30th cemented her, in my mind at least, as one of the great voices and songwriters of our generation. If that sounds gushingly dramatic so be it, that’s the mood Angel put me in.
The night started out with dreamy support from Hand Habits. Led by vocalist-guitarist Meg Duffy, the three-piece delivered a languorous set, loaded with breezy guitar solos and bittersweet vocals. It was the perfect, light-hearted appetiser to the hour of orchestral melodrama we had in store for us.
As the venue filled out to its full, heaving capacity, Angel stepped onstage, glamorously coiffed and smouldering like the love child of Patsy Cline and Elizabeth Taylor.
Accompanied with a six-piece band including a strings section, she started with a blistering rendition of recent single All Mirrors and followed this with choice cuts of her bombastic record of the same title.
It’s an album laden with strings and synths and building crescendos giving way to delicately intense moments. Live, it was powerful stuff, with songs like Lark and Spring showcasing Angel’s knack for roaring vocal power which turns to whisper intimacy on a dime.
As the night went on she also treated us to older songs, like Forgiven/Forgotten, a seething grunge folk anthem from her 2014 album Burn Your Fire for No Witness, and Acrobat, a ballad of obsessive adoration, from her first album, 2012’s Halfway Home.
When she sings ‘I am the crazy acrobat, you are the witch, I am your cat, I want to be a bit like you, I hope you don’t mind if I do,’ I was right there with her, watching with captivated adulation.
I didn’t seem to be alone. The reverence of the packed crowd was palpable, and Angel had everyone in the palm of her hand. I got the sense that her wry stage patter was that of an artist who’s been on the road for a while. If she was fazed with the adoring crowd, she never seemed it, even when batting off declarations of love.
She also had us all tricked when she introed her glam rock anthem Shut Up Kiss Me, (of 2016’s breakthrough album My Woman) with a bit about how she’d just come up with it the night before, and she’ll just teach the band real quick.
It was a short but immensely theatrical set that kept the considerable crowd reverentially quiet and hungry for more. After finishing with Endgame she returned for a brief but startlingly memorable encore, playing another All Mirror’s track Chance, a crooner ballad that comes off like the credit song of some epic 1940’s romance movie.
This was the perfect end to a set that sounded timeless throughout, like songs half-remembered from your grandparent’s radio.
Once the encore ended, she ran offstage in a flash, leaving most of her audience dazed, a roomful of cats waiting for our beloved witch to come back.
Photo Credit: Cameron McCool.