Live Music + Gig Reviews

Angel Olsen @ Dingwalls, London

25 March 2014

Angel Olsen Formerly a collaborator of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, the last few years have seen Angel Olsen strike out as a quietly confident solo artist with some ease. A quick scan of the live room at Dingwalls, a sold-out date in a quick-fire UK tour, reveals a varied age range, showing how far-ranging Olsen’s appeal is, especially after the wider success of recent LP Burn Your Fire For No Witness.

Judging from the fact that a fair few people are clutching newly purchased vinyl copies of that album tightly to their chests like it’s their baby, it’s clear who’s the main attraction. All things considered, Glaswegian duo Honeyblood have the difficult task of warming up an expectant crowd that’s already filling every nook and cranny. Whilst not impressing for all of their allotted slot, they do their best to delight an appreciative audience. Kissing On You and Choker, in particular, are reminiscent of Best Coast‘s finest melodies but lurking underneath is a lot more power and drive.

Olsen and her band swoop onto the stage from behind the curtain, with little fanfare greeting their arrival bar a few whoops and hollers. Tracks from her latest release dominate the setlist and any fears that Olsen wouldn’t be able to find a balance between her quiet moments and the considerably louder blasts of lo-fi rock are gradually dispelled as the set progresses. Even older material such as the excellent Tiniest Seed doesn’t feel out of place. That said, it takes the band a couple of songs to get going and the chatterboxes near the back of the venue don’t help in setting the mood.

The aggressive Forgiven/Forgotten gets the biggest cheer of the evening as it cuts through the chatter, Olsen growing in intensity following every cry of “I don’t know anything!” From that point onwards, it’s pretty much plain sailing. The atmosphere might be chilled and relaxed, but everything seems to come alive on stage, thanks in part to a simple but thumping rhythm section and reassuringly twangy country tones. Tracks such as Windows, which withholds from going into all-out power ballad territory for the sake of keeping onto its haunting quality, are remarkably sparse and intimate.

The songs’ arrangements are for the most part deliberately minimal, so that all the focus can be placed on Olsen herself. Her pained vocals and lyrics are, as a result, the highlights, and she excels when she’s left to her own devices as her bandmates depart towards the end. From the opening couplet of White Fire (“Everything is tragic/It all just falls apart”) all the action around her seems to grind to a halt as she grabs everyone’s attention – it takes some talent to silence a room for about six minutes with just her voice and her hushed guitar plucking.

It proves to be a magical conclusion to the main set, and it’s a spell that’s only broken when from the shadows someone shouts “Judas!” as a half-hearted joke as Olsen and company return for an encore. This time they err on the side of raucous, with Stars providing a shot in the arm for anyone in the audience still in a daze. It’s clear that from the snatches of overheard conversations that no one is leaving disappointed, and with good reason. This was a quietly majestic and assured performance.

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