Saturday, October 15, 2016

Angel Olsen, Manchester Club Academy 14th October 2016 9.5/10

I haven't been moved to write much of late: a change in my financial circumstances has curtailed my live music opportunities, and the recent gigs I had managed to buy tickets for were disappointing or uninspiring. Yet, occasionally,  a respected, established musician suddenly propels themselves to an exalted level of live performance, and so I feel compelled to disseminate the news. This happened most memorably in early 2014 with St. Vincent: the release of a landmark album in her career coinciding with a tour featuring stagecraft of a new level of creativity. Angel Olsen has with My Woman produced an album which is one of the most exceptional of this year, paralleling St. Vincent's in 2014. Yet Angel is a far less theatrical performer than Annie Clark, not relying on an elaborately crafted pop persona. In fact, she's relatively static: this is not a show filled with dancing or direct interaction with the audience. Early in the set, much of the drama took place off stage, when her tour manager was forced to leap over the barrier and eject some disruptive members of the crowd; the performance continued unflappably.

A more pertinent comparison is with another of my favourite performers who also issued an exceptional album in 2014: Sharon van Etten. Angel has long been suggested for investigation by those who appreciate the Brooklyn artist's style, but tonight was the first time I realised that she deserved to be placed in such exalted company. Like Sharon, she has an exceptionally pure and powerful soprano voice. This 29 year old from Asheville, NC is also a master of the guitar, reinforced by a five piece band with members from all over America. The lavish backing, together with excellent sound and lighting is a statement of intent that her days of playing coffee shops are long past: she'll surely shortly be commanding far larger venues than this one in Manchester. She may have pronounced: 'Angel Olsen is tired this evening', but there was no lack of passion in her delivery; indeed the energy was electrifying. The drama, and her band's drive recalls PJ Harvey, another artist who's enjoying an exceptional year.

The passion burning in songs like Not Gonna Kill You stems from the relationship breakdown which underlines My Woman; it is this pain which has, not for the first time, found powerful expression in art. As she explained to The Guardian: "Music is a wonderful thing to do with your life... but it’s a f*cked-up thing to do to your psyche... This (album) is where I actually loved and lost and came through the crazy storm." Her non-musical relationship with the audience relies on her quirky sense of humour, which feels relatively detached: she's far from long-winded in her chatter. Yet, her inspired third album brings greater extroversion in songs like Shut Up Kiss Me, with chorus and hooks. The emotional  depth of the second half moves me most, with extended songs like Sister. The album's closer is the desolate Pops; however she concluded this gig with the title song, when she sings: "I dare you to understand what makes me a woman." It blends psychedelia with her existing folk-rock style, whilst her first encore Intern introduced synthesisers to her oeuvre. Don't miss the opportunity to experience Angel's mesmerising presence and ability to move you deeply yourself during her current tour; this was surely one of my gigs of the year.

Set List (*from My Woman)
*Never Be Mine
*Shut up kiss me
Lights Out
*Heart Shaped Face
*Those Were The Days
*Not gonna kill you
Sweet Dreams
Forgiven Forgotten
*Give it up
*Intern (1st encore)
*Woman (2nd encore)

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