Captivating, heart-rending and utterly brilliant: Angel Olsen at Rock City (18/05/17)

Angel Olsen achieved a rare feat in March when it was announced she’d been upgraded from a gig at Rescue Rooms to a show at Nottingham’s historic Rock City. It signifies a major transition for Olsen, whose latest album MY WOMAN launched her to new levels of indie rock stardom and even made the UK top 40 (just about).

Released in September 2016, the album marked a career shift for Olsen. Her previous albums of lo-fi country folk were pensive and often sparse: her powerful voice carrying the weight of the songs’ emotion. MY WOMAN is exuberant, open and infectious yet still retaining the dreamy aura and acutely yearning lyrics of her earlier work.

The single ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’ is emblematic of this bold new spirit, with the album going on to receive glowing critical acclaim. It also made the top ten of several major year-end lists in a year of many big hitter albums, bringing much newfound exposure.

“[The support, Tim Darcy] was able to evoke great Roy Orbison at his weirdest”

This success has not come unearned. Olsen has hundreds of shows under her belt and a refined stagecraft that comes with that experience. Set against a simple but absorbing backdrop of dangling tinsel, Angel Olsen’s commanding performance transported her audience entirely elsewhere.

Playing support that evening was Tim Darcy, an indie rock crooner who bore an uncanny resemblance to Napoleon Dynamite’s brother Kip. That distraction aside, Tim’s performance was quite charming. Accompanied only by the rich sounds of his guitar and an occasional booming drum machine; he was able to evoke great Roy Orbison at his weirdest.

However, as often as he managed to lull you in to his cinematic performance, he could alienate with segments that felt aimless. Though a little unsatisfying, Darcy proved an excellent complement to the show that was to come.

Emerging to the dissipating sounds of ‘Intern’, Angel Olsen launched immediately into the bracing ‘Not Gonna Kill You’, following quickly into the euphoric one-two punch of ‘Never Be Mine and ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’ that had the audience singing along. “Sometimes you’ve just gotta get that out of the way” she commented, answering the question of just how she planned to bridge the two distinct parts of her discography. At this point, the show changed tack, moving towards deeply affecting slow-burner ballads like ‘Windows’ and ‘Sister’.

These allowed centre stage for Olsen’s exceptional voice, which didn’t miss a note and occupied a space somewhere between Siouxsie Sioux’s boom and the melancholy of Stevie Nicks. It was also in these moments that the full atmosphere of the performance deepened.

“Angel Olsen will surely have left a mark on anyone who witnessed her”

The violent clash of bottles behind the bar revealed to us the reverent silence that had fallen in the audience, which heightened the mood of such an intimate show in Nottingham’s biggest rock venue. The band were dressed like ‘60s country musicians and were overtly smart. They worked beautifully to induce a dreamlike ambience straight out of a David Lynch film, like a performance at the Roadhouse from Twin Peaks. Olsen defused this tension with a humanising anecdote about her not reciprocated love for her new cat.

She also offered a pointed invitation to momentarily disregard what’s going on “out there” in the world and enjoy her performance in here. Her message was non-specific but clear and the audience was happy to oblige. An enrapturing encore rounded off the gig with fan favourites ‘Unfucktheworld’, ‘Give It Up’ and ‘The Waiting’.

With a mesmerising performance at Rock City, Angel Olsen will surely have left a mark on anyone who witnessed her. Despite a recent surge of success, she seems keen to succeed on her own terms, without sacrificing her past.

This was neither a show designed to win over new fans enticed by the latest singles, nor a set of songs to please old fans. Instead, this was a performance of Olsen at her best: captivating, heart-rending and utterly brilliant.

Mick Fitzpatrick

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