Missouri indie rocker Angel Olsen‘s visit to San Francisco consisted of two stops: The Great American Music Hall and The Chapel. The first of these, on December 1, brought her a sold out show and warm reception.
Her opener, Kevin Morby, was exactly what an audience would want in an opener: despite arriving with a lone drummer on this tour, he was highly energetic and engaging with the audience. His most recent single and closing song, “All of my Life,” was met with a large applause and cries for more, but by then, his set was over to make way for Olsen.
Dressed in the brightest of sparkly pink dresses, Olsen took the stage with a small band of three. With “Free,” from Half Way Home (2012), Olsen began a grungy and somewhat quiet set. Her clear, vibrato-happy soprano voice cut through a distorted, bass-heavy background, almost cracking in the highest places to make moments of gorgeous dissonance. During “Acrobat,” her voice swooped and built to crescendo, creating slow tension that eventually faded out to a mere whisper. The crowd was laidback throughout the concert, nodding their heads slowly as the music unfolded.
One of the only moments the vibe of the set changed was when the band played “Forgiven/Forgotten” and the tempo suddenly increased as the band rocked out over a driving beat with much more energy than the previous songs.
Olsen was charming and personable, asking the crowd what they were drinking in her gravelly, Midwestern twang and admitted that she was a “whiskey kind of girl.” Despite the glitter of her dress that evening, Olsen taps in to a certain kind of darkness in her songs.
Near the end of the set, her band left the stage leaving Olsen unaccompanied. Before starting solo on “White Fire,” she paused for a moment and revealed that even after performing for a while, singing the opening lines of this song still ruins her day. Regardless, she plunged ahead, crooning “everything is tragic / it all just falls apart” into the microphone over the slow strumming of her acoustic guitar.
Olsen shines when it’s just her and her guitar, the spotlight on her as she closes her eyes and focuses on the music. As she sang, “I have to save my life / I need some peace of mind / I am the only one now” during the short “Unfucktheworld,” Olsen was, for a moment, vulnerable and heartbreaking.
Although there was little variation in the tone or tempo of Monday’s set, Olsen’s sound remains refreshingly different — a strange mashup of grunge, rock, and operatic vocals that haunted her listeners long after we stepped back into the streets of San Francisco.
Article by Maris Dyer
Photos by Luke Sheard