Show Review: Angel Olsen At Lee’s Palace

By Alekzia Hosein, Feature Photo via PitchPerfect//taken by Amanda Marsalis

Angel Olsen played two sold out shows in Toronto over this past weekend. Sunday night’s show at Lee’s Palace drew a crowd of around five hundred turtlenecked fans, many of whom have followed her from her emotive folky beginnings to the upbeat poppy sound of her third and most recent album,  My Woman, and its lead single, “Shut Up Kiss Me.” While most of the songs played were from My Woman, released earlier this month on the record label Jagjaguwar, the setlist included reinterpretations of some of Olsen’s most popular earlier songs, including “Hi-Five” and “Lights Out,” from 2014’s Burn Fire For No Witness, and the audience-requested “Acrobat,” from 2012’s Half Way Home.

These performances play out like covers, re-sung by a grown-up Olsen. During “Acrobat,” her voice floats like fog over the crowd, silencing the room, as if it were haunted. Although the album version had been acoustic, Olsen crafts rockish, dynamic breakdowns that feel natural. On the live version of “Hi-Five,” Olsen shouts out, “Now tell me if you don’t feel this way,” in passionate confrontation, and exaggerates the track’s exuberant warbling, asking, “Are you lonely too?” The song has always sounded nostalgic, evoking images of Stevie Nicks and Dolly Parton, but as Olsen reminisces on her own past, it seems even further away. The songs are both familiar and novel, framed by her folky roots and brought to life by her five-piece band.

In matching pale grey suits and bolo ties, Olsen’s longtime bassist Emily Elhaj, drummer Joshua Jaeger, two guitarists, and a backup vocalist join her on stage. Birthday girl Elhaj frames the performance with supernal, twangy bass-lines while Jaeger provides a steady pulse for heartfelt songs like “Lights Out” and “Sister.” The band’s adoption of Olsen’s tracks is simultaneously epic and intimate. During the two-minute outro for “Give It Up,” I realize that this show would not have had nearly the same magnitude if it were unplugged.

There are two Angel Olsens at this show, and each of them is just as important. On one hand, there is the wistful ghost of a country diva, evoked by a glittery top, teased hair, and the melancholic whine of “Never Be Mine’s” chorus, “You’ll never be mine, you’ll never be mine.” In opposition, there is her antithesis, a brazen Angel that declares what she wants and delivers lyrics triumphantly. Fortunately, both versions play a role on each song. The effect is cinematic. She opens “Sister” with soft, celestial introspection, but grows more impassioned as the song progresses, nearly shouting the lines “All my life I thought I’d change” near the end of the eight-minute ballad. Even on the dance-y “Shut Up Kiss Me,” Olsen’s soulful vocalization between verses stands out. These aren’t the breathy R&B sounds used to fill time; instead, they evoke a deep emotion roaring inside of her. Because of this, her voice does not always sound pretty (in the traditional poppy sense), but it is never imprecise in conveying what she means. On stage, her songs evolve from their studio versions into something more dynamic and embellished, without sounding insincere. As she performs the songs, Olsen effortlessly brings them to completion, breaking your heart and lifting your mood within a span of seconds.

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