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Monday, 28 April 2014 12:58

Concert review: Angel Olsen (with Promised Land Sound) reunites with St. Louis at Off Broadway, Sunday, April 27

Concert review: Angel Olsen (with Promised Land Sound) reunites with St. Louis at Off Broadway, Sunday, April 27 Zia Anger
Written by Janet Noe Rhoads
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Captivating songwriter and performer Angel Olsen came home to St. Louis on Sunday night and was greeted with an audience of family, old and new friends and fans eager to show their admiration for her work. Despite threatening storms, they crowded the room at Off Broadway.

It’s unfortunate that more of that crowd didn’t make it for the opening band because Promised Land Sound from Nashville, Tennessee was like a sun-soaked summer day chasing away the clouds. The band's garage-rock sound pays heavy respect to artists like Neil Young, the Byrds and Tom Petty. I thought the compositions were tight and their harmonies were roughed up in just the right way. Someday soon, I want a day by a river or lake, a 12-pack of whatever’s cheapest and their album as the soundtrack. As they neared the last third of their set, the room began to fill with a flood of people.

Putting this review together has made me realize that I’m a little bratty when it comes to seeing my favorite artists perform live. Olsen’s last visit spoiled me. It was so sweetly intimate, with only about 50 audience members sharing the room at Off Broadway and performed acoustically, just the way I like my music served up best. That night she was completely mesmerizing and had such command that each person in the room stood like stone statues as she sang. This visit, I had a hard time sharing her as the crowd was three to four times the size of the last visit. This performance was with backing instrumentation that I felt at times drowned out the particular nuances of her voice which make her so unique. Also it must be mentioned that it’s hard to enjoy much of anything when a room is unrelentingly muggy, smells like hot broth made of balls and armpits and when a gal keeps heavy breathing directly on the back of your neck in loud sighs meant to cajole you to quit being taller than her. All in all, I was not having a good time, but I knew it was my own bad attitude or way of dealing with discomforts that was getting in the way.

Finally, I could not take the crowd pressing on me anymore and I moved away from the front of the stage. A simple move changed everything. Although my view of the band was completely obscured, suddenly everything fell into place sonically. What had sounded muddy up in the front gained clarity with some space. Without hot breath stirring the hairs on my neck and pestering me, I began to regain that connected feeling to Olsen’s music and presence. Distance really did make my heart grow fonder of the set as a whole. I began to be a little more reasonable. It doesn’t make much sense to be mad at Mother Nature for making us sweat and stink. Passive aggressive people are all around us and we can't let them bring us down. I can’t fault an audience for having the good sense to be there in such great numbers, especially as I want that kind of recognition and success for Olsen’s work. Like a toddler with a favorite toy, I just didn’t want to share. It took putting myself in a time-out corner to realize how unfair I was being and to remind myself why I was there and why so many others wanted to be there as well.

Why? Because watching Olsen perform is magical. Her lyrics are oracle wise, her phrasing is never forced but always interesting and there is this pang she creates with her voice. Think of all your loves lost, all the relationships broken, all of the things you want and cannot have, the everloving angst of being and how those emotions twist up your guts and create hollow spaces in your solar plexus. Olsen’s vocals live right there in those hollow spaces. She fixes her steady gaze across the crowd; the warble in her voice and her hypnotic falsetto maneuvering like a surgeon’s knife find those darkest, hardest parts inside of us, cut them out and hand them to us. We must deal with them in our own way after that. In “Lights Out” she assures us that we can handle it:

Just when you thought you would turn all your lights out it shines
Some days all you need is one good thought strong in your mind

If you don't believe me you can go ahead and laugh
If you've got a sense of humor you're not so bad
No one's gonna hear it the same as it's said
No one's gonna listen to it straight from your head

If you feel like running out then stand in one place
When you're still and when you run there's something to face
No one's gonna see your life through, there's no way
I wouldn't want to know what you see every day

St. Louis was home to Olsen for many years. There were enough old friends and family in the audience for her to comment that it was like a “wedding celebration.” She joked, “It’s like I’m marrying my past right now. Congratulations. On being invited.” Perhaps this is why, despite a persistent effort by the crowd with a waxing and waning, but never ceasing, round of clapping and woo-hooing, an encore never materialized. The overhead lights turned on and “the bride” was greeting her reception line of well wishing loved ones by the door. We’ll just have to try to lure her back to St. Louis for the honeymoon.

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