Published Apr 22, 2013Angel Olsen is unquestionably on her way up. The Chicago-based singer-songwriter had a fairly minimal set-up this evening — herself, with just a guitar and a couple pedals fronting a rhythm section and a cellist — but the effect struck deep. From the opening sounds of "Miranda," from her sophomore album Half Way Home, the damaged grandeur of Olsen's voice rang true. Granted, it sounded like her voice is being tested on the road these days, perhaps a touch gravelly in certain moments, but she pulled through to deliver a devastating performance. She is clearly one who goes for it, and calculates the costs afterward.
Olsen tastefully employed a vocal vibrato in her melancholic Americana aesthetic, like a mix of Joan Baez and Patsy Cline. She lilts when it feels necessary, like in the dirge version of "Acrobat" where she was seemingly in tune with the cellist playing ghostly harmonics throughout. Though her band was a little off here and there, Olsen's voice cut through it all. She made focused stink-eyes at random members of the crowd as she expelled her introspective lyrics, looking like a predator about to consume its prey whole, and delivered her soul-searching messages as if she was questioning each audience member individually.
When she wasn't singing, her stage presence revealed some of the risks she was taking. Her banter was soft-spoken and slightly awkward, talking about her nice experience at the border several times. She sent the rhythm section away to perform a soul-shattering version of "Some Things Cosmic" from her lo-fi debut Strange Cacti with only the cellist, who also left for her last two songs. Olsen sang her final song without the mic, emoting as she shuffled about the stage.
Olsen doesn't have a whole lot of material right now. Between her two releases thus far, she has about an hour to work with, and she played about 45 minutes of it this evening. Yet, given her clear talent, it's doubtful anyone walked away feeling ripped off. In fact, staying mostly seated on the concrete floor throughout the show, the modest crowd was quite attentive and well behaved, which is a rare thing these days, a testament to her captivating talent.