19 October 2013

Angel Olsen in Lexington

Angel Olsen with her guitarist and drummer played in Lexington a week ago. Based on her album, Half Way Home, I wasn't sure what to expect in the live setting. The album is stark, dark, and introverted. The spare musical accompaniment seemed like it could not be bested at a concert. I was wrong. Not only did Olsen play electric guitar, she was complemented by a drummer of great capability. I cannot overstate how wonderfully these songs bloomed on stage that night. All traces of Tarnation - whom I love, incidentally - that I heard on her album were stripped away to reveal a lean, fierce, smoldering fury. Something had pissed her off; I was riveted. Under the spell of the musicianship and the singing, I had no idea what would happen next. Her eyes sometimes locked on me as I sat near the back, all the hairs on the back of my neck tried running away. Sadly, soon something would piss her off. Playing at a bar, the number of patrons was much greater than the number of her audience. No-one in the bar would shut up to make space for her songs. It was heartbreaking and infuriating. Just the way she played guitar scared me so god knows what fate an errant barfly would meet were the artist beyond good and evil. The set was cut short, unfortunately. She ended the night solo on that electric guitar playing a song of Polly Jean Harvey or Townes Van Zandt levels of fatalism. Contemporary examples would be Cat Power or Sharon Van Etten, but in terms of musical terror and lyrical potency I'm thinking PJH and TVZ. Her playing was simple but fluent. It was an attack with exact grace. I was stunned, but I didn't want it to end. Still, it did end. This was one of the best evenings that I've ever witnessed. 

For another perspective and a full set, let me defer to Jennifer Kelly's review.

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