Angel Olsen casts a meditative and melancholy spell over First Ave

Angel Olsen

Angel Olsen Photo by Tony Nelson

A spare curtain served as the backdrop during Angel Olsen’s 80-minute set at First Ave last night, leaving the focus squarely on the performers and giving the Mainroom stage a timeless feel.

Stark lighting saturated that stage in moody reds and blues, often casting Olsen alone in a ghostly spotlight. Her five-piece backing band dressed in a uniform of gray suits, white shirts, and (worn with varying degrees of conviction) black bolos. Spread across the stage, they formed a striking portrait of symmetry with Angel at center in a ruched white dress and stacked heels, and the wedding party attire brought a touch of levity to the night.

After easing into the set with “Never Be Mine,” Olsen plowed through her breakout track, “Hi-Five,” during which she bent her knees for a particularly suggestive delivery of the line “Are you lonely too?” In contrast to that rollicking rendition, a comparatively sluggish “Shut Up Kiss Me” must have clocked in at least five beats slower than the album version.

Even while Olsen moderated the pace, her band was full of contagious energy, trading appreciative grins throughout the night. And her adoring fans couldn’t resist whooping and shouting about their love for her. She seemed to soak it in, insisting Minnesota is just too kind.

From the outset, Olsen’s striking vocals were high in the mix, and several times the band abruptly quieted themselves to highlight her fierce yet vulnerable delivery. As much as I enjoy the fuzzed-out guitar of “Hi-Five,” the high-ceilinged Mainroom suited her soaring downtempo tracks much better.

The set pulled heavily from her 2016 release My Woman, including “Not Gonna Kill You,” during which a smoldering snare line built up to a formidable crescendo from Olsen. Matching her with equally strong backing vocals and tremolo, as she would all night, was Heather McEntire, from opening band Mount Moriah. But while McEntire tilted her head back for some unabashed belting, Olsen sang into the shadow of her shoulder while gazing admiringly at her bandmates.

Olsen continued to slow the pulse of the room as a three song sequence—“Heart Shaped Face,” “Acrobat,” and “Sister”—that transformed First Ave into a hushed and reverent space. A wash of reverb filled the room with a warmth that belied the heartache of “Heart Shaped Face” while the band effortlessly blended harmonies with Olsen’s gorgeous vocal delivery.

“Acrobat” was a welcome cut from Olsen’s debut album, and as she shielded her eyes from the stage lights, she sang to the rafters, “Oh to be that distant thought…” On a night that could have easily lent itself to her suggestion that we “Unfucktheworld,” instead Olsen offered a moment of musical transcendence.

Once we were deep under Olsen’s spell, she picked up the pace with her new single, “Special,” which she followed with the sprawling track “Woman.” During that last song, Olsen moved from guitar to keys, laying church organ sounds over her band’s layered guitars. The encore was just as balanced, and over all too soon, sending satiated Minnesotans back out into the thundering autumn night.

Click here to see photos of Angel Olsen at First Ave

Never Be Mine
Shut Up Kiss Me
Give It Up
Not Gonna Kill You
Heart Shaped Face
Those Were the Days

Sweet Dreams