Angel Olsen / Promised Land Sound Il Motore, Montreal QC, May 8
Published May 09, 2014If the opener's name is indicative of their music, then Nashville must be the Promised Land, as the quartet seemed to embody the stereotypical country-rock vibe that the city's music scene has become known for. Promised Land Sound's ample vocal harmonies, slide guitar and brief flurries of surf rock drums led to a fair opening set that blended the several aforementioned genres into a neat package that set a good tone for the evening. The band, true to their name, shows promise, and while their sound isn't the most original — their revelation of their city of origin resulted in a few looks and nods signifying that it should have been an obvious assumption — their tunes were still a nice way to begin the evening.
These days in Montreal, most residents are preoccupied by the Canadiens' slog through the Stanley Cup hockey playoffs, and the fact that many of them managed to sell out il Motore on a game night proved to be a feat in and of itself, a testament to the power of Missouri indie rocker Angel Olsen. However, she was unable to fully draw the audience away from their city's goings-on; the crowd's enthusiasm was at its peak when Olsen mentioned Montreal and what one does here (cheer for the Habs and eat poutine and bagels, according to vocal concertgoers). This moment, occurring halfway through the set, was indicative of the night's mood — pleasant but somewhat distracted.
Olsen and her trio of backing musicians delivered the dreamy folk-tinged rock of her studio records, including recent standout Burn Your Fire For No Witness in a forthright, no-bullshit set, but Olsen's vacant stare and minimal movement beyond the physical motions required to sing and play the guitar gave the impression that she didn't fully want to be there, and her apathy seemed apparent in her curt between-song banter. With simple questions such as the aforementioned effort to delve into the minds of Montrealers and a semi-rhetorical request to no one in particular about what song to play next, Olsen's stage presence was as uncomplicated as her sound, but with an unshakable "too cool for school" feeling.
While Olsen's desire to be there was unverifiable, she and her band definitely proved their musical mettle. Full band versions of older songs, such as "Miranda" from 2012's Half Way Home, brought new depth to the tunes, and her wavering, slightly husky alto was clear and enthralling, benefiting greatly from a lack of vocal filters compared to the studio versions (most particularly on penultimate track "Forgiven/Forgotten," from Burn Your Fire). "Forgiven/Forgotten" and set closer "Sweet Dreams," from her 2013 Sleepwalker seven-inch, found Olsen using her voice's full power, employing a range of dynamics to wake up a lulled crowd before leaving the stage and forgoing an encore.
Olsen's vibe has always been minimalistic — Burn Your Fire expands her previous singer/songwriter sound with the introduction of a full band, yet still remains straightforward — and her onstage persona seemed to be an extension of her sound. Olsen and her crew are able to craft intriguing folk without needed to overcomplicate it, but their musical talent wasn't enough not to betray a feeling that they were just going through the motions, at least for the first part of the set. But, thanks to some set-ending showstoppers, the set was redeemed.