Live Review

Angel Olsen, Dingwalls, London

There’s no need for theatrics with Olsen.

While Honeyblood may have been picked to support Angel Olsen this evening at Camden’s Dingwalls for their Americana-infused single ‘Bud’, the real similarity between the two acts lies in their strong, fearless presence on stage. Unassumingly and with no introduction they launch full throttle into a track with slurred, grungey vocals and follow up with a half hour of energetic garage rock often with a catchy chorus thrown in. There’s a comfortable, unspoken flow between the duo, exchanging wry smiles, they’re entirely at ease with each other and give a great performance.

It’s natural to liken Angel Olsen to other fantastic singer-songwriters and there have been plenty of comparisons knocking around already - Joanna Newsom, Sharon Van Etten and Cat Power to name just a few. But if Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, who employed Olsen as a backing singer, was one of the first to recognise her raw, agonised vocal talent as something particularly special and unique he certainly won’t be the last.
Opening to earlier material the full force of Olsen’s voice only just begins to creeps through for ‘Free.’ She employs a steely demeanour as she sings, but in between songs is relaxed, joking with her drummer to take his shoes off if he wants to and bantering with the crowd when they shout out words of encouragement.

There’s no need for theatrics with Olsen, the drama is all plain to see in her mesmerising vocal talent and grip-like stare. That she has talent beyond her years is clear as day at ‘Forgiven/ Forgotten’ as she injects an electrifying amount of power into the chorus.
If producer John Congleton made ‘Burn Your Fire For No Witness’ a palatable, softer Olsen, she shakes off any of its whimsy on stage. Live, there is a rawness to her that leaps out at you from her icy gaze and a palpable anger as she sings, ‘If only, if only I had nothing more to say’ in ‘High and Wild.’

For all her insistence that the new album is a collaborative effort, it is Olsen’s voice that is the star of the show. This is at no detriment to her band-mates, swooping from a tender country drawl to at times a powerful cry her voice is swathed in spacey, psychedelic guitar and dusty, warm drums beats that build around it to glimmering effect.

For the second part of the evening Olsen is left solo with her guitar and the crowd is treated to a deeply personal performance. ‘White Fire’ is a dreamy, introspective look into her head, ‘I laughed so loud inside myself it all began to hurt’ she purrs. Though she has been cited as meaning the lyrics as having a joke with herself about where she was conceived, it’s hard to think of anything light-hearted in this incredibly intimate setting. Then again, there is that wickedly dry sense of humour to remind us that with Olsen, not all is as it seems.

A fitting encore, the band re-join Olsen for ‘Stars’. As she wails, ‘I wish I had the voice of everything,’ there is something incredibly haunting about seeing the stage lit up in flashing red lights with winding guitars and her ferocious voice and unblinking stare as a mesmerised crowd looks on. Surely when someone is this impressive, there is no need for comparisons.

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