Think back to those chalky heart-shaped candies sold in flimsy, cardboard packaging. “Be Mine” was one that always seemed to turn up, so when Angel Olsen opened her show at The Wiltern on Valentine’s Day with “Never Be Mine,” there was a hint of fatalism in the air.
Also consider that a lot of Olsen’s songs wrestle with age-old themes surrounding the struggles and triumphs of love. When you do, the audacity of the opening selection begins to make more sense.
Then factor in the (blue) heart-shaped balloons swaying listlessly on stage, Olsen herself in a candy striped shirt, or the “Hello, My Name Is ________” stickers given out at the front door (on which one could check “Taken” or “Single”). When all was said and done, the night had all things love coming out of its pockets.
Meanwhile, the long, ribbon strands of silver tinsel that hung on the backdrop curtain could’ve doubled for a macro mock up of The Satellite (f/k/a Spaceland), a venue that Olsen probably played years ago.
“I feel so lonesome,” “Shut up and kiss me,” “Was it me you were thinking of…or was it your mother?” From clichés to zinger darts, Olsen dropped an elegant and commanding performance that channeled the vocals and grit of Stevie Nicks, Patti Smith, Neil Young, and, most importantly, Angel Olsen.
Her voice, ironclad especially in its low register, can quiver and stand tall at the same time. These kinds of dichotomies were all over the place. Emotionally crippling heartbreak melted into empowerment, one song to the next. Angel Olsen’s on-stage presence is understated, yet huge.
During “Acrobat,” the lead track from 2012’s Half Way Home, Olsen sang without hesitation, but while also calm. So much so, that in the middle of the song, she casually crossed her legs just above the ankle and played the balance of the tune in this unique, relaxed pose.
Although Olsen’s newest album, My Woman, is a contemporary work of indie gold, it isn’t afraid to employ a slowed-down surf rock strum of the brothers Wilson (“Never Be Mine”). Later, Olsen’s guitar rang for days on “Heart Shaped Face,” and electric guitar slide work on “Lights Out” evoked a yellow and orange, Southwest palette. Texture abounded!
The gorgeous “Sister” started with the innocent trajectory of the intro to “Crimson and Clover,” but also contained countrified elements that led to a massive vocal moment from Olsen. A multi-tiered ascent driven by a pair of guitar solos ultimately electrified the sold-out room, the climax of “Sister” marked by a few Nashville hollers from an exuberant crowd of apparent romantics.
A wardrobe change prior to the encore coincided with Olsen’s total abandonment of her guitars. She played the final three songs in a silky, white dress while standing behind a set of keys at center stage.
Olsen knobbed some knobs on the haunting and dreamy drone of “Intern.” The penultimate slow roast track from her new album, “Woman,” commenced with a deliberate crawl, but held true to the album version with a guitar solo that slingshot the song into the 8+ minute range.
Her captivating set devastated with a bitter reality that is best represented by the downtrodden minor chords employed throughout; there was no saccharine sweet on display. That isn’t to say there wasn’t also fun.
The Motels’ song “Total Control” served as coda. Even though Olsen closes most shows on this tour with the tune, it was a Johnny On The Spot bookend for a Valentine’s Day set beleaguered by the confusing pangs of love.
“I’d sell my soul for total control, over you,” is a line mailed with a stamp of despair, recognizable to many who have fallen in and out of the many twisted incarnations of love.
But those who remained in the crowd were saved from any further heartbreak by an uplifting and sublime outro during which a momentary pause allowed Angel Olsen to bid us goodnight and exit from the stage. She was confident to have the band bring it home without her.
Angel Olsen at The Wiltern Setlist:
Never Be Mine
Shut Up Kiss Me
Heart Shaped Face
Those Were the Days
Not Gonna Kill You
Give It Up
Total Control (The Motels cover)