When Angel Olsen played her first Los Angeles show back in January last year, it was in the intimate confines of the Bootleg Bar. Olsen played alone, with just an acoustic guitar for company, and blew away everyone who saw her that night, myself included. Her burgeoning reputation has led to a new label, a bigger sound for her new album, and venues with the capacity of the Echoplex. Fortunately, the rapid ascent has not been at the cost of what it was that made Olsen special in the first place.
Angel Olsen took to the Echoplex stage alone again on Sunday night, but things are different now. Firstly, the guitar was plugged in. Secondly, it was a solo show only as long as it took her to get through “Unfucktheworld,” the opener from her excellent new album Burn Your Fire For No Witness, after which she brought the rest of the band on stage to help her through the country-tinged “Hi-Five.” For the next hour, Olsen proceeded to work her way through the new album cuts, and for an artist so used to performing solo, she did not look out of place with a full band behind her.
It helps when you have songs as good as “Forgiven/Forgotten” in your repertoire. That song in particular is the new Olsen at her best, backed by skuzzy riffs and the persistent momentum of the drumming, climaxing with the memorable exclamation “I don’t know anything / but I love you,” which is just about the most concise and rich expression imaginable of affairs of the heart. The band occasionally threatened to swamp Olsen’s vocals, but fortunately that line was never really crossed for the 45 minutes or so they were on stage.
The band left late in the set, leaving Olsen alone again for the last few songs. So it was that she proved what a talent she is with the evening’s finest moment, the near eight-minute rendition of “White Fire.” The song feels almost like a test for the audience to see how long they can remain locked in on a young woman playing a barely audible loop on a guitar and singing in her particularly detached, intense manner. The answer could be heard, or more accurately not heard, in the audience’s absolute concentration.
It was a remarkable moment in an impressive set, one that proves that a step up in profile has not diluted Olsen’s gifts, and in many ways it has actually enhanced the focus of her songwriting. At the same time, it was great to see her stand alone without looking the least bit intimidated by the acute attention from the crowd. I’m willing to bet she could play the Super Bowl halftime show now and the stadium would probably fall silent to listen.
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