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Angel Olsen at The El Rey, Thursday December 4th 2014

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Angel Olsen

If we live every moment of our lives through emotions rather than through reason or objective reality, I want Angel Olsen’s music to be the soundtrack of my life, because there’s no singer I am aware of who expresses emotions the way she does. Think about all your heartbreaks, angsts, fears and losses that weigh on your shoulders and that you can’t express, Angel take them all away in a magical song and a hypnotic falsetto.

When I learnt several months ago that she was playing at the El Rey this Thursday, I didn’t hesitate a minute to buy a ticket… And I am sure I will do the same each time she is back in town, she is one of these rare performers who inspire greatness, as there is not a bad song in the set, and each one of her numerous and sparkling smiles is pure sweet sunshine for your soul. On stage she is charming, reserved and serious, totally in control but making an almost awkward comment after a few ‘I love you’ from the audience… ‘I love you too, it doesn’t matter who you are!…she answered laughing, ‘It sounds awful, I did not mean it that way!’ she added continuing smiling.

I have been listening to her last and stellar album ‘Burn Your Fire for No Witness’ since its release in February, and I haven’t got tired of her acrobatic vocals, showing an amazing range and expressing so much emotion with an unordinary ease. However, seeing Angel live is a very profound experience, she was a rare treat and she appeared like a dream at the end of a long and boring day. During she show, she came up with new arrangements, modulated her vocals, slowed down each syllable, giving me lumps in the throat and chills on the spine. Wearing a vintage low-necked black dress, perched on high heels, she looks like an apparition, and I am not just playing around a metaphor inspired by her first name, the first rows only have eyes for her: it was a love fest there, with wide-open-eyed guys leaning against the stage and girls shouting their big love for Angel. I know that a lot of people complained about these assholes who talked during the whole show (and I want to!) but they were mostly in the back of the packed room, and bothered me only during the quiet, stripped down moments. It happens at every show in Los Angeles, something I really don’t understand, as I have myself shushed at people a few times at various shows… But last night, the first rows were listening to Angel so religiously that it was a beautiful scene to witness.

Alternating between her soaring, fierce and raucous songs off her last album –such as the beloved ‘Hi-Five’ or ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’ – and her more quiet and delicate ones (‘Free’, ‘Acrobat’, ‘Tiniest Seed ‘) off her 2012 LP ‘Half Way Home’, she showed her amazing range, even adding two obscure covers of the 60s (Jackie DeShannon’s ‘When You Walk In The Room’ and Richie Havens’ ‘I’m a Stranger Here’) that she made hers with a disarming ease. It’s not easy to categorize Angel’s music, she sometimes sounds like the daughter of Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison, but her influences seem to be all over the place and she also can cool down the room to a zero degree with a minimalist guitar stream and her glacial, numbed-to-pain vocals of ‘White Fire’. Towards the end of the show, Angel came back on stage alone, starting the first bars of the heartbreaking song, but finally telling us while laughing, ‘When you are having a good night, it’s hard to play this song, but I’m gonna to play it anyway!’… ‘Everything is tragic’ she started to sing still laughing a bit through the first verses. Honestly, there was no better song to change the mood, rapidly installing a hypnotic throbbing guitar work haunted by her ethereal voice. If there were still people talking in the back of the El Rey room, they obviously missed out a lot, the moment was thrilling and magical, like many other ones during the 16-song set. ‘This is my last song’, she said before ‘Iota’ and people were already expressing their discontent and begging ‘Can we have an encore?’ Of course we got one!

Angel Olsen is certainly a very captivating and powerful performer, with a natural charisma, a sad look on her face only interrupted by bright smiles, and an ethereal voice as fragile as it is strong, going all emotional tremolos, hitting all the high notes at the right moment. She then can lose herself in some half murmured hums transforming a melancholic ballad into internal distress,.. but again there were all these smiles, she was having a good time, and all the drama stayed deep inside the songs, like a tormented daydream she inhabited with a heartbreaking grace, only when she wasn’t smiling.

Setlist

1 Free
2 Hi-Five
3 Drunk and with Dreams
4 Lights out
5 Stars
6 Acrobat
7 Tiniest Seed
8 High & Wild
9 When You Walk In The Room
10 Forgiven/Forgotten
11 Sweet Dreams
12 I’m a Stranger Here
13 White Fire
14 Iota
Encore
15 May as Well
16 Windows

More pictures of the show here.


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