I found myself switching between the two mindsets, each time, more conscious than ever that I was gazing in Angel's direction a bit too often (I always wonder if this distracts or instills unease in the artist). But the thing is, she is, gloomy yet charismatic; rock yet tender; and intimidating but warm. Angel Olsen is magnetically comprised of all the contradictions that exist within each and every one of us.
An intimate venue, akin to London's theatre style Bush Hall, the acoustics in the room held her vocals within the walls and held tight to each breath to come from her lips. None of us wanted to let go. As an artist, it's hard to know whether she is in the moment and enjoying the gig or not. Deadly silence spun around the venue between songs, and I began to wonder if the crowd were really connected and in the moment. But the ice was broken when a random voice from the depths of darkness thanked Angel and her band for coming all this way.
To which Angel replied:
"I have a friend! I have a friend in Bristol." And continued to tell us of a pub down the road, built in the 1600s and having eaten her second Subway of the day (presumably not in the aforementioned pub, but who knows).
With Emily Elhaj on bass, and a nod to the Kim Deals of the universe, the band collectively younger than I expected.
The setlist included a beautifully elongated version of Lights Out, Miranda (from 2012's album Half Way Home), and the assured High and Wild, and Hi-Five. The focus felt reverberating from within, was seen in the glint of author Angel's eyes, and outside, a full moon in the night sky, waited in the wings, aptly eery for the tone of her set.
If you've got a sense of humour, you're not so bad...
That's not to say the set was downbeat, the contrary was true - the fullness of her band, marked out in Forgiven/Forgotten fleshed out the childlike and soaring vocals that we have come to define Angel Olsen by. But don't go thinking you've got this girl figured out. Hush-hush whispers open out into crescendos heading somewhere way beyond the earth we stand on. She sings as though she is both simultaneously in absolute control of her craft, and on the other hand, at the mercy of something, someone, who has chosen her to be the vehicle for some unearthly, unresolved tales of dark struggles and resentment.
Her lyrics are tinged in irony and sometimes sarcasm.
Am I supposed to think that's the truth...
Bold, defiant, cut-throat clarity. Angel Olsen sings about her life, as she peppers the intros of her songs, with brief anecotes of inspiration.
I've never been arrested, but I have been searched...
She then breaks into a tale of Miranda...
It's a fine thing that this woman has decided to talk up the less than rosy sides of life (because there are many), and build each story and experience into something relatable, strangely disassociated with our lives, and filled with her own unique way of conveying emotion that leaves you feeling like you could both hug her and hide away from her.
Her song Acrobat was especially well received, never was I more aware of the tiny hairs of each and every person's inner ears vibrating in oscillating sympathy. To liken Angel's natural rapport for pulsing out the high notes on this song, Acrobat, just like the song of the same name written by Tanya Donelly (Belly, Throwing Muses, the Breeders) has a sense of poignancy, personal investment and tonight she definitely put everything into it (of course, this was not noticed by the naked eye, which might fracture Angel's barely there, effortless and laid back demeanour, to her credit).
A genuinely hard working and talented band, fronted by extraordinary songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist Angel Olsen. A pleasure to be in their company, and like the best live performances, a sort of epoch, a transcendental experience. My only complaint is that we did not see this gig in one of Bristol's churches. Angel Olsen definitely has it within her, to wake the dead.
Angel Olsen was supported by Jaye Bartell (his music can be found here: http://pilgrim-songs.bandcamp.com/) and their tour continues onwards in the USA before returning to Europe, and the UK for Green Man festival in August. Angel will return to the UK for a handful of live dates in September.
New album: Burn Your Fire For No Witness.
More news can be found at Angel Olsen's website: www.angelolsen.com