Angel Olsen At The Wiltern Theater, Tuesday February 14th 2017
‘You’ll never be mine, You’ll never be mine, You’ll never be mine’, Angel Olsen sang on Tuesday night after a dramatic entrance surrounded by her 5 musicians, and it was the perfect song to open her show on Valentine’s day at the Wiltern, since I have always thought that her music was the perfect fit to run away with an unrequited love.
Every time I have seen her, she has been playing a bigger venue, and after attending her fantastic performance at the Wiltern theater last night, I have no doubt she is an ascending indie superstar. Two artists were opening for her, and multi-instrumentalist and former guitarist of Deerhoof Chris Cohen opened the night with a short set of quiet music with super-dreamy vocals. It was a sort of unique pop, impressionistic, melancholic, pseudo psychedelic and occasionally jazz-infused, while bringing some weird chord progressions at times. Cohen’s vocals sounded so eerily detached from real emotions that I didn’t immediately connect with the calm soundscapes, which may have had accents borrowed from Ariel Pink to Tame Impala, however, he was enigmatic in his own way, while a tranquil uneasiness was surfacing from his songs.
If emotions and movements were restrained during Cohen’s set, it was the total opposite during the performance of Jonathan Richman, who gave a new name to exuberance and joie de vivre. ‘This is a very happy man’, said someone after Richman’s set of music to-frolic-with. I know he has a strong cult following, I know he almost invented punk rock with his band the Modern Lovers, but I had never seen him live and I didn’t expect him to be that entertaining. But you couldn’t have been more low-key than this guy, he barely sang in the mic while he was turning around, dancing carelessly with a childish and genuine innocence, making everyone laugh, from a good and heart-warming laugh. Accompanied by a very subtle drumming, he played a quiet acoustic guitar with a South America tempo, serenading us with his funny baritone, and if his whimsical set almost sounded improvised, it also sounded like a world tour, with Brazilian samba or flamenco guitar and some true free-spirited dance numbers starting right in the middle of a song. The ex-Modern Lovers made us sang ‘People are so disgusting’ and couldn’t have care less about looking like an idiot. Of course he was everything nut ridiculous, he was funny and charming, it was minimal playing and maximal humor and I just wanted to join him in his happy, very happy world.
For the rest of the evening, Angel Olsen radiated in front of a crowd completely ravished by her voice, she reigned with the calm assurance of an unpretentious and accomplished queen, although she just turned 30, but for the entire night, she was the queen of heartbreaks, the one who made everyone’s torments evaporate by her comforting presence.
She greeted us with a warm ‘Are you doing tonight babies?’, and appeared on stage wearing a red striped blouse and sexy short to match. Surrounded by blue and white balloons, a gold tinsel-prom backdrop, and a band wearing retro blue suits, she looked like the perfect ambassador for Valentine’s day with songs like ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’, ‘Those Were the Days’ or ‘Not Gonna Kill You’.
From intimate sweetness to long plaintive howls that can tear your heart apart, her vocals were so strong and expressive that they could make you go through a thrilling ride of emotions during the same song, and what songs! Alternating between tracks of her recent and critically acclaimed ‘My Woman’ and her fantastic 2014 album ‘Burn your Fire for no Witness’, she almost slowed down some of them, giving people the time to break the silence with a cheerful scream during a breathing pause of ‘Lights Out’… Angel answered with a smile. These rare moments of exchanges between the cool introvert singer and the crowd were the most precious ones, although people were throwing at her ‘We love you’, ‘You are so beautiful’ all evening long.
Of course an Angel Olsen concert is at times a very slow affair, installing peace and a solemn grace with songs like ‘Heart Shaped Face’ and ‘Sister’, but the nuances she can bring with these honeyed vocal chords of hers are incredible, before the music suddenly branches off to new heights, bringing more excitement to match another series of emotion-loaded howls, ‘All my life I thought I’d change’, she laments.
The new album is a more glam and polished collection and if she didn’t send me these Roy Orbison vibes this time, the older tune ‘Acrobat’ made her voice vibrate with a cold brightness while guitar distortions gave a new dimension to the song, which did seem to stretch longer than usual. ‘Not Gonna Kill You’, which may have been a highlight of the show, brought a rare and liberating rock fury, and this may have been the only moment Angel really shouted, ‘It’s not gonna kill you, It’s not gonna kill you’.
She sped up with passion throughout ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’, a song that made me fall in love with her a few years ago, and after a clap-along during the band’s exit during the end of a tumultuous ‘Give It Up’, Angel came back after a wardrobe change, looking like a Greek goddess. The dream wasn’t just over, as she gave us celestial versions of ‘Intern’ and ‘Woman’ behind keys and her crystalline voice made the time really stop at that precise moment, as if it was suspended on these heavenly sounds… ‘I’ve been thinking/How your smile seems to last forever/Even if it’s just a while’, crooned Angel. The band left us with a cover of the Motels’ ‘Total Control’ ending with one of the most glorious and triumphant organ arrangements of the night, and a ‘Happy Valentine’s Day everybody’, screamed by Angel before disappearing.
At a time when a lot of music is used everywhere as background at the most superficial occasion, Angel Olsen’s gut-wrenching songs unleash a passion that requires your full attention and free a wind whirl of emotions going from sadness, ache, love and hope. Olsen’s music is not for these superficial times, it is for your most significant times, Valentine’s Day is not for lovers, it is for the heartbroken who want to run away with their unrequited love.