The Roundhouse – 24th May
On her acclaimed third studio album My Woman, St. Louis’ Angel Olsen danced along a thin line of ambivalence; her most accomplished yet, the record was at once reflective, raucous, ironic, wistful and brash. Generally though, its arc seemed to drift from the perky, indulgent guitar-licking likes of ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’ and ‘Not Gonna Kill You’ to a sleepier, slower second half.
One of My Woman’s latter and most stunning tracks, ‘Those Were The Days’, sounded like Olsen slow dancing at a ball and whispering into the ears of an old flame, an image aided of course by her own timeless crooning, glistening vibraphone chords and a slow but accented rhythm. Given how a 50s/early 60s rock sound lightly pervaded the record, this image was given an added dose of nostalgia to the yesteryear of Middle American youth. Indeed, at times Olsen played with this, mockingly putting on a bright-eyed persona of a Golden Age Hollywood sweetheart, as on the heavy closer ‘Pops’: “I’ll never tell you you’re wrong / Baby don’t forget it’s our song”.
Though it’s by no means overblown or tacky, it’s certainly an aesthetic Olsen plays with at her performance at Camden’s Roundhouse. Her biggest London show to date, she arrives late to the party whilst her band – clad in vintage pastel suits and bootlace ties against a glittery backdrop – play the opening bars of the slow-burning ‘Heart Shaped Face’ on loop. It’s an understated opener, but the room elevates as soon as Olsen’s soaring vibrato voice kicks in; the whole room cheers before she can finish the first line “I’ve seen you changing”.
Fuzzy folk rock anthem ‘Hi-Five’ from 2014’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness soon picks up the energy, though more so for the galvanising ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’ and the freak-out jam ‘Not Gonna Kill You’.
“It’s a pleasure to be here, despite the way the world is right now,” she tells us after some awkward stage silence. Though unfortunately there are several problems the singer could be referring to – one song from the evening, ‘Fly On The Wall’, is included in the First 100 Days series that aims to fund organisations threatened by Trump – there is a knowing murmur if not sigh returned from the crowd; the horrific terror at the Manchester arena on Monday will feel fresh for many years to come, but its sadness does have something of a palpable presence tonight.
“It makes me grateful for what I have though; I have these beautiful people on stage with me, and all of you beautiful people here too,” she continues. The mood lightens. Her five-piece band compliments her perfectly, playing with dynamics and intricacies impressively with a modest execution – quite a task given her lead guitarist’s shreds in ‘Not Gonna Kill You’ and ‘Sister’.
As with the trajectory of My Woman, tonight’s performance fades to a touching and hushed close, with Angel returning for an encore of heartbreakingly lonely ballads ‘Lonely Universe’ and ‘Tiniest Seeds’. Her voice judders like on record but in person it’s more visceral; it’s Olsen alone, but it’s her at her best.
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