On Thursday, the divine alternative country songbird Angel Olsen played her second of three sold out NYC shows, this one the second at the grandiose antiquity of the mid-town landmark venue Town Hall. It shows how far she has come in just a few years, playing the smallest of dank stages as a young, relatively unknown country/folk singer back in 2012, and now, three albums later, she is selling out multiple nights in the city that never sleeps. However, her enchanting powers come as no surprise to anyone who has seen this young talent play before, as this shy and unassuming talent has always managed to captivate, enchant, and spellbind any audience with one of the most uniquely bewitching voices in music history.
Despite mastering some very classic elements in her music, this is a young talent exudes some very diametrically divergent facets that seems to make her sound all that much more alluring and are just downright enthralling to witness live. Her vocal growls, quivers, and roars have that spine-tingling harmonic potency and antiquity of female country legends like Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, providing a lamenting wail that calls out to you like a Siren harkening you to crash into the rocks in a fit of passion, yet, there are some far more recent inspirations in there to be found in her deep, deep timber and pitch, from Patty Smith to Sharon Van Etten. She has a classic smoothness to her voice and appeal, and yet there is always something just slightly off-time in her song-structure, just that little bit of off-kilter dissidence to keep your emotions and expectations off-guard. Also, her lyrics have divine angels and wicked demons playing with their extremes, from the bright, sweet, and uplifting songs that make you feel like you’re running through a grassy field on a perfect summer day, but just as many songs that can plunge you straight down into depression and heartbreak galore. There are so many dualisms to this brilliant artist, but to be sure, her talent beams most vividly on stage, and her occasional charismatic and beaming smile can make even the most hardened and stoic of hearts melt. She is quite coy and bashful about the effect she has on many of her fans, as during the set she got the boisterous male shout of “I LOVE YOU,” a raptured call she gets from many fans during every show it seems, to which she couldn’t help but reply, “Yeah, but are you IN love with me?”
Opening the show was Heron Oblivion, a supergroup of sorts, and although you may be fooled into believing they are some jam band from upstate NY on first look, you quickly learn the error or your foolishness. This is a group of modern psych-rock royalty, consisting of singer and drummer Meg Baird (formerly of Espers), bassist Ethan Miller (Comets on Fire and Howlin’ Rain), guitarist Noel Von Harmonson (Comets on Fire), and second guitarist Charlie Saufley (Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound), and they are even on the label of continuing bastion of uber-alternative coolness Sub Pop Records. The mellower jams can be tiresome sometimes, but it always builds up and expands with driving rhythms until the distortion-heavy sonic nectar starts to pour off the stage like a tsunami, and then you see your salvation in the call of a magical bird with wings outstretched that roars out your fate. They too seem sandwiched into some seemingly competing ideologies, as they obviously cherish and drape themselves in the prolific mid-’00s psych-noise sound, but they also have a kind of classic rock feel, thankfully never crossing the line into jam-band territory, but definitely capturing some breezy and comfortably pastoral vistas. Their songs are moody and dark, but there’s a gritty country rock ground on which they obviously love to play, and which gives them that perfect platform to lift off like a rocket.
Angel Olsen has a new album called Phases out, and even though it’s not the full-length follow-up to her brilliant My Woman from last year, and LP that brought her from indie folk and alternative music idolatry into surprising pop success. This is a collection of B-sides, demos, and covers which is full of gorgeous chestnuts that show her early evolutions over her still freshly fermenting career. For me, the highest of points in the set were the addition of an old track “Tiniest Seed” from her first album Half Way Home, a gorgeously jammed out version of “Sister,” and an alluringly serene solo rendition of “Lonely Universe.” She may sound like a classic female country singer, and her expansive band all wearing antique matching powder blue southern show suits certainly make it look the part of a vintage southern revue, and yet, she spent the show dressed in a skintight shining silver one-piece number like something out of a sci-fi show, and for her second encore where she played “The Waiting,” she came out wearing a glittering glitter wig, now appearing more like a 90’s raver, which also helped to drive home her wild-woman spirit persona that may very well be the secret ingredient to her many bewitching powers.
Article: Dean Keim