Much has been said about Angel Olsen’s latest record MY WOMAN, but it is something else to see it performed in person. For the devoted fans in the room, this will go down as a truly special night as we are given the privilege of sharing the same space as an artist who is at completely and utterly at the top of her game.
Upgraded to the 1,000 capacity room in the SWG3 warehouse due to phenomenal demand, it says a lot about Olsen’s unstoppable rise this year that she is able to sell out such a venue. It’s an odd one at that; a renovated warehouse that seems more akin to all-night raves as opposed to the carefully considered and lyrically profound alt-country that is on the menu tonight. Naturally, being a Saturday night in Glasgow, there is a tangible buzz around the place and a degree of unsettledness.
However, this all changes when Olsen and her five-piece band emerge in a low-key fashion from side of stage. With the band sharply dressed in matching light suits, Olsen takes centre stage and remains entirely stationary for the duration of the set, often strapped behind her guitar. Exuding a kind of classic country gothic aesthetic, her presence is immediately arresting and compelling; it’s impossible to remove your eyes from her as she looks out into the crowd, as though she is commanding your attention with that infamously dead-pan stare.
It’s a strong opening which features a powerful and spiky take on ‘Never Be Mine’, ‘Hi-Five’ from 2014’s ‘Burn Your Fire For No Witness’ album and then hitting us with the sultry grunge-pop vibes of ‘Shut Up and Kiss Me’. Starting with three of her most popular songs is a bold and confident move from the performer, after which she suggests ‘should we leave now?’
Thankfully, there’s no danger of that though as the set continues to go from strength to strength. Her older tracks are fleshed out with the help of her backing band, while the new material from MY WOMAN takes on a searing new power when performed live. Effectively adding an electronic fuzz to her reverb-drenched countryfolk and Americana vibes, the album deals with themes of womanhood, love and isolation in truly compelling fashion that has seen it receive immeasurable levels of critical acclaim. With three guitarists, a bassist, a drummer and a backing vocalist on stage, each of its nine tracks on show are so carefully and intricately considered; often starting subtly with moments of quiet focused entirely on Olsen and her guitar before moving into swelling widescreen arrangements which fill the room. Everything performed is tight and done with purpose. On each side of the stage, the two guitarists complement each other wonderfully while Olsen strums subtle rhythms; her backing vocalist providing shadowed harmonies to her own vocals in order to add emotional nuance. The eight minute long ballad ‘Sister’ is a sight to behold, displaying a wonderful control of pace and rhythm which sees the performance range from moving folk to swirling psychedelia while an aching delivery drowns the song with depth and emotion.
The voice which strikes you so deeply on ‘MY WOMAN’ is simply astonishing to witness. The control to contract and expand with such delicacy is unbelievable, her profound and visceral lyrics reverberating around the room with great power; able to range from wounded to the exhilarating with respectable ease. With little chat between songs, aside from a staid warning not to throw things on stage, Olsen lets her music do the talking. When the instruments are quieter, her voice shines brighter and when the music swells, you are still firmly aware that she is very much the leader of this collective.
Following begs for an encore, they re-emerge to play a haunting, synth-heavy rendition of ‘Intern’ which sees Olsen over keyboards accompanied by hymnal harmonies before a stunning, sprawling take on ‘Woman’; the singer hitting out with one of the night’s finest moments ‘I dare you to understand what makes me a woman’ echoes around the room with such power and feeling.
For those who are less in tune with Angel Olsen’s songbook, this set may have been lost at times for its slower and more considered pace. However, for the dedicated fans this was a special night that will live long in the memory. Recalling the last time she played in Glasgow at the small Mono café, things have got slightly bigger since then and this tour is resembling something of a victory lap with 2016 confirming her as one of this generation’s greatest songwriters.
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