Flying solo – Angel Olsen in Redfern
Wow, Angel Olsen is good! Earthy and ethereal (it’s hard to resist allusions to the angelic). Smart, funny, talented. Olsen’s solo performance on Friday March 23 at Giant Dwarf Theatre on Cleveland Street, supported by the very impressive Jess Ribeiro, was one of those unforgettable shows – wonderful, powerful songs sung so beautifully. So good.
“As you get older, the pain gets funnier … it does,” Olsen remarks while tuning her guitar. Pain and humour is one creative tension she handles with consummate skill. There’s also the tension between intense emotional material and a relaxed, even joyful stage presence. Tension between high- and low-range, “hard” and “soft” vocals – Olsen’s voice is an extraordinary instrument. Tension between the purity of the vocals and a very noisy electric guitar.
Olsen plays a 1979 black Gibson S-1 (just about every photograph of the singer includes the beloved six-string). Not a typical folk-rock guitar, the tone of the S-1 is both gritty and jangly – with just the right level of reverb through a Vox AC-30. The single-coil pickups are noisy though. At one point, Olsen delights in turning up the crackle and hiss.
She tells us about roller skating at a David Bowie tribute event – how she enjoyed dressing up, letting go, having fun. She sings with quiet intensity: “Goodbye sweet mother-earth/ Without you now I’m a lonely universe/ You won’t always understand/ When you’ve truly loved someone/ Until after they’ve gone” (“Lonely Universe”).
She apologises for talking too much, and seems genuinely surprised and moved by an audience held in rapt attention. The venue is perfectly suited to this kind of show. The acoustics are clear and bright.
Olsen’s recent release, Phases, is an intimate collection of B-sides, rarities and demos, and the show features most songs from the record.
“Only With You”, an outtake from the breakthrough album Burn Your Fire for No Witness (2014): “You can love, you can love, you can lose/ When it all looks the same/ You can love, you can love, you can lose/ Even at your own game.”
The gorgeous melody of “Sans”: “I’m feeling kind of tired but I know it’s for the best/ Even when you’re dreamin’ you’re not getting any rest/ Grasping at the meaning of a love to call my own/ Wish it were as easy as just picking up the phone.”
The timeless “May As Well”: “If you really love me, there’s no way to tell/ I’m always arriving when you say farewell/ In all of my dreams we are husband and wife/ I’ll never forget you all of my life.”
“Fly On Your Wall”, an outtake from Your Woman (2016), is met with warm and knowing applause. The track was the first release from digital album Our First 100 Days (2017), a song-a-day series compiled in response to the Trump administration’s ruthless agenda. Its inclusion declares Olsen’s opposition to hate. “I found a feeling inside/ Or should I say it found me/ I turned into someone I/ Never imagined I’d be”, she discloses.
Among many favourites of the evening is “California”, a spellbinding encore: “On the way to California/ And I don’t mean California literally/ I was thinking, I was thinking/ I’m not dreaming … I’ve got a feeling buried deep down inside of me/ I’ve got a feeling buried deep down/ And who knows what it means to have a feeling/ Buried so deep down/ But I’ve never felt quite so open for love/ I’ve never felt quite so open before/ And maybe my imagination runs away with me.”