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Concert Review: Angel Olsen

Concert Review: Angel Olsen

Here’s hoping the crowd at Olsen’s next show here can keep their mouths shut and just watch how effortless she makes it looks.

Roseland Theater, Portland, OR
12/09/2019

Why do people feel the need to yell things at women while they perform? I’ve seen this happen at so many shows: Cat Power, Feist, The Blow and Tegan & Sara, and I once watched dumbstruck as Fiona Apple reacted, in real time, to a heckler’s plea of “Get healthy, Fiona, we want to see you in another 10 years!” with a cataclysmic blend of fury, sorrow and heartache. I have no idea if this is a Portland problem, but it has become hard to ignore. Why are crowds so comfortable heckling women?

You can add Angel Olsen to the list. Her new album, All Mirrors, is a powerhouse even if you don’t care for the singer, full of insect swarm-like string sections and wholly addictive arrangements. The record feels like an artistic turning point, and yet, people still felt the need to yell at her, more than just a peppering of “I LOVE YOU”’s and “PLEASE PLAY UNFUCKTHEWORLD!” It felt like people in the audience were trying to get Olsen to engage with them directly between almost every song. She largely took it in stride and responded jokingly, answering one person’s “I love you!” with, “I feel like we’ve only just started a relationship, and I don’t feel that way yet.” But it grew tiresome between every song.

But it’s not fair to let class clowns ruin the show – and they didn’t even get close. All Mirrors is a capital-A Art-pop album, full of moments to dance to that also sound like they’re playing out in rooms surrounded by endless, inky blackness; In a way it’s fitting for the performance to happen in the Roseland, a venue that is just a black box itself. Olsen took note of that: “I’ve never been in a weirder looking club in my life. Did this used to be a boxing ring?”

Olsen and her band – mostly non-men, save for the drummer and a guitarist – dressed for the space, each dressed all in black, right down to the cellist’s glossy black cello. Olsen looked tastefully witchy, with both her hair and makeup looking incredibly precise. She’s a striking figure with an impressive command of the stage, and when she performed, the crowd seemed mildly awestruck. People didn’t dance as much as they could have, but for once, they can be forgiven for standing a bit gob smacked. At one point, during a particularly sultry song, I felt as though she was making eye contact with and singing directly to me. It was a powerful feeling.

The rest of her band are terrific too, especially her two-piece string section. It would be incredibly costly for Olsen to travel with the robust string section of All Mirrors, but the violinist and cellist did a damn good job of bringing those arrangements to life on a miniature scale. They also proved a welcome addition to the songs of Phases and My Woman played during the evening, which benefit greatly from the added layer; it’s a shame that Burn Your Fire for No Witness had zero representation, as it would have been great to hear those songs like that.

Despite the intensity, Olsen and her band were delightfully charming and spent a lot of time golfing off: they did half-ass covers of “Only Time” by Enya, “Amber” by 311, and threatened to take on “No Rain” by Blind Melon, with Olsen the sole holdout, surrounded by bandmates softly playing the timeless jam. Olsen was the chatty flipside of her intense stage presence, fuzzily recounting a solo show she’d done at the Crystal Ballroom (“I remember that night – I mean, I don’t remember that night, but you know… I remember that night.“) or reflecting how wild it was to go from being a massage school dropout making shitty coffee for people to someone who gets to play shows like this one.

Anyone who wrote off Olsen as “just” a singer-songwriter in the days of Burn Your Fire – myself included – would do well to not only listen to All Mirrors but go and see her perform live. She promised just one more song, alone onstage – the aptly-named “Sans” from Phases – before disappearing, and its inclusion was a potent reminder of how far she’s come in crafting her own power. When the band came back with a tongue-in-cheek “We lied!” to play All Mirrors’ “Chance” and a cover of Mark Ronson’s “True Blue” (which she appears on), it felt all the sweeter seeing how much of herself she can fit into just one song. Here’s hoping the crowd at her next show here can keep their mouths shut and just watch how effortless she makes it looks.

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