Angel Olsen – The Roundhouse, London, 25 May 2017

Two nights – two Rough Trade alumni – two great concerts.

After last night’s gig by the Districts (reviewed here), it is back to North London again and this time, the Roundhouse for Angel Olsen.

I have to confess that whilst I appreciated last year’s “My Woman” LP, I didn’t quite concur with some of the hype around it. Nine months on, it is an album that I keep coming back to. Her take on an updated Velvet Underground/Jesus and Mary Chain/Mazzy Star sound is one that is easy on these aging ears. The melodies are simple and digestible and the dark drama that the arrangements generate takes me back to the 80s, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It was a time that I was discovering the Mary Chain first hand and the Velvets second hand. It was the antithesis of some of overproduced music kicking around in the mid 80s and Olsen’s current work too has something of the night about it too.

I approached the show with a degree of trepidation. The events in Manchester earlier in the week cast a long shadow. Angel Olsen and her music is many things, but a joyful pick me up it isn’t.

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What transcended on the evening was the sheer quality of her performance. The band wander on, minus Olsen and ease into “Heart Shaped Face”. Dressed in matching powder blue suits, white shirts and bootlace ties, this is a sharp looking crew. Angel strolled on, hair cool and immaculate, clutching her retro looking Gibson electric guitar. For all the world, they looked and sounded a bar band from “Twin Peaks” or any other neon lit David Lynch drama. They could have been Angelo Badalamenti’s house band. The stage was wide, Vox and Fender amps to the fore and groups of balloons floated, a tribute to the fallen in Manchester perhaps. For once, the Roundhouse sound was spot on.

The band were on the money too but Olsen’s voice soared and transported the music spectrally across the hushed auditorium. Gaining in depth live, her vocals were a thing of wonder, seeming to channel both Stevie Nicks (she’s been known to cover Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”) and Roy Orbison simultaneously. Flying through a couple of octaves, yet not in a showy way, moving from a growl to a whisper, the early DIY sound of her material was absent, until a couple of unaccompanied encores. Instead we got something both cool and warm simultaneously.

After what appeared initial reticence, Angel got a little more comfortable and engaging. Switching between guitar and keyboards, she was centre stage and the star of the show. The longer songs, such as “Sister” and “Woman” allowed her and the band to stretch out to dramatic effect.

It is clear that Olsen has got the talent and personality to develop. Every LP has shown a progression and there is no reason to doubt that she isn’t here for the longer haul.

NB: Cover photo by Anita McAndrew (@anitakshoots) via Twitter

In scouting around for some video footage of Angel, I came across the clip below. NPR is a not for profit American broadcasting company, probably most analogous with the BBC. They do Music Field videos, taking an artist into an unusual setting to perform a song. It is a sunny day in London again, which brings mind Bill Callahan’s beautiful version of “Small Plane” in a New York. Here’s Angel performing “Give It Up” from “My Woman” in Fordham University Church in the Bronx. Lovely stuff….


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