Concert Review: Angel Olsen

September 26, 2016

9:15 pm sharp and Angel Olsen walked on stage among her band, sporting costumes to match their opening song, “You’ll Never Be Mine,” a guitar-rich, longing-for-love anthem with heavy overtones of summertime and 60s pop. Crooning into the microphone in an astro-gold jumper, Angel strummed a 12-string guitar while her five-piece band, in their matching bolo ties and retro gray suits, arranged themselves across the stage in perfect spatial symmetry.
The best live music experiences often boil down to rapport and a stellar set list. At Mr. Smalls on September 12th, Ms. Olsen nailed the set list, but failed to build the connection that might have transported her audience to that other transcendent plane where strong music, like strong drugs, may carry us.
Ms. Olsen is an intentional and experienced performer. Her show reflected careful stage management. The music was direct and without gimmicks—no ostentatious switching of instruments, jumping about, or excessive swaying of the hips. An audience member commented admiringly after the show, “sometimes it’s nice to just hear a band play songs.”
The set list, drawn mostly from her 2016 album (“My Woman”), reflected the same degree of care—arcing from opening anthem into a pensive mood and then slowly, oh so slowly, building energy and volume through the end of the main set and into the encore.
Angel Olsen’s style, however, was more shoegaze bashful than the nonchalant folk singer or haughty rockstar that her music might suggest. Her one-liners between songs didn’t quite find their mark (“so, what’s there to do in Pittsburgh?”, or, apropos of nothing and while obviously not drinking, “do you all like to drink?” … no response … “because I do”), underlining a certain lack of connection with her audience.
Owing, perhaps, to this lack of rapport, the crowd was attentive but not overly enthusiastic. When the band walked off stage after the first encore we turned en masse for the doors, apparently satisfied with what we’d heard. Angel Olsen entertained, but did not enrapture.

–Mark Egge

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