Angel Olsen Burns Her Fire At The 9:30 Club

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Angel Olsen’s voice is some kind of miracle, an 18-wheeler that, when conditions warrant, can park in the space reserved for a Mini.  She has a band that, on each of her two essential albums, can generate extreme heat at comparatively low volumes — think of the musicians on Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp, Scotty Moore backing Elvis I, the Attractions backing Elvis II — though in concert they bear more than a striking resemblance to Dylan’s combos on his 21st Century incarnations of The Never Ending Tour.  But the reason we would go out in the cold to see Angel Olsen play is the songs, those smoldering, sometimes accelerating explorations along the main trunk where folk, alt.rock, and get directed by the lineman across trestles and delicate bridges toward a destination this close to the left ventricle.

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If her song choices at last night’s gorgeous set at D.C.’s 9:30 Club seemed to segue effortlessly from one to the next, it may be because they were clustered in the order she’d already chosen on her best album, 2016’s My Woman, and that place where I first tuned in, 2014’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness. If “Give It Up,” “Not Going To Kill You,” and “Heart Shaped Face” are correctly sequenced on the album, why bother mixing them up on tour?  Last night she said the tour felt like it was about two-years long, and had added crows feet to her face.  But given that her sold-out Thursday set had forced an additional show tonight, long may this journey continue.

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Her band was astonishing, and it was a joy to hear them play outside the intimate confines of a studio.  Still, the reason Angel Olsen draws such an intense response is, of course, her voice.  When attempting to draw comparisons, the mind deviates from thinking about other women and instead finds Roy Orbison, Chris Isaak, voices that can jack into some mythic place where ’50s rockabilly and early rock’n’roll are setting a rural barn on fire.  It is true the voice isn’t for everyone — Mrs. Tulip Frenzy was not in last night’s crowd. But backed up as it was by a female singer with a correspondingly strong and subtle croon, when heard live, even at the end of a tour Angel Olsen’s voice was a reason to stand transfixed.


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This year Angel Olsen released Phases, a 12-song compilation of demos and b-sides, and even in the formal recognition that this wasn’t her best work, it was one of the year’s strongest records.  We look forward to her recording in 2018 a new set of songs, backed by her remarkable band, played at any volume she likes.  Any singer whose voice can align as hers does to the songs created just for it, who can produce two such great albums over just the final few years of her 20s, will be back to sell out other venues, bigger venues, as she burns her fire and is witnessed by millions.

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