Oh London! You don’t deserve nice things.
It seemed after the pandemic that the contract between performers and the audience had been renewed. People valued the artists being back in the room and the work they produced in that environment. The appreciation was evident. Everyone piped down and listened. We had two years without live music. These sound waves were to be valued.
But here we are in Brixton, October 2022 and the chattering classes are at it again. I love the Academy. It is one of my favourite venues, what with the sloping floor, excellent acoustics and the rococo decor. The one downside is the long bars across the rear of the venue. People congregate. They gab. Boy, do they gab?
What did this mean for the performers? For opening singer Tomberlin, a significant amount of deserved irritation. Her simple songs, backed by occasional strings, suffered in the hubbub and understandably, so did Tomberlin. Her latest album was released on Saddle Creek, making her label mates of Big Thief and Adrienne Lenker. If you like either of these two artists, then Tomberlin is for you. I can’t make any objective comment on her Brixton set. Wrong venue and crowd – she’ll surely play somewhere more sympathetic in London and soar in the way she deserved at the Academy.
Angel Olsen has had an emotional rollercoaster in recent years. First, she came out to her family. Tragically, both of her parents died within a few months. This was the backdrop to her most recent album Big Time. One might have expected the record to be a darkly emotional affair, given that Olsen already has a few of those under her belt. However, in a recent Guardian interview, she commented:
I think after losing my parents, that brought everything to the forefront. Who cares about these other troubles in my life? It made me feel quiet. I’m older, too. I’m 35. I’m getting used to the fact that things get more complicated as we get older. You can either feel sorry for yourself or learn how to laugh deeper.
As a Bowie fan, I love that Olsen creates albums of individual character. Big Time has a broad warm country sound – steel guitars, Hammond organs, twangy guitars. It is very inviting and playful too.
This is what we got at Brixton. The set was primarily based on Big Time with picks from the icy gothic All Mirrors and LA noir of My Woman. She was a lot more confident than I recall at previous shows. She looks happy and comfortable in her own skin. Many of the band are stalwarts and there is a tightness to the performance that makes for a very together gig.
The most noticeable development though was the quality of Angel’s voice. It has always been warm and expressive but sometimes a little frayed around the edges. This has gone. Her range is now fuller and the little falsetto leaps that the more country-inflected material. Right Now was a showstopper, powerful and defiant. I would have loved to see her perform her recent Sharon Van Etten duet, Like I Used To. I’m not sure who would have accompanied her but it is such a favourite in all its Crystals meets Springsteen wall of sound glory.
I’m still computing the end of the gig. Her set closer kept the Tucker Zimmerman revival going. He’d opened for Big Thief at Shepherd Bush Empire earlier in the year and Olsen covered Slowin’ Down Love, from his 1977 Foot Tap LP. It’s a song of romantic redemption and you can see how it appealed to Olsen, fitting perfectly with the Big Time vibe.
They say that love’s a foolish thing, it can only break your heart
but the kind of love that you’ve been giving me has given me a brand new start
it’s the kind of love that makes me want to stop and look around
the kind of love that makes me want to slow downTucker Zimmerman, Slowin’ Down Love
The encore was a yin and yang experience – a joyful cover of Badfinger’s (and more famously Harry Nilsson) Without You. We all know it. We can all belt it out and that’s what we all did. A somewhat tongue in cheek, arms aloft in the air moment to send us into the Autumn night.