an angel with an attitude: Angel olsen concert review
Written by Madeline Happold
Angel Olsen is taking control and she’s not letting go.
She’s taking ownership and not giving it back.
Olsen makes it obvious with the title of her newest album, My Woman, which released on September 2. Spunky, stubborn, and yet soft, it’s no wonder Olsen sold out back-to-back shows at Thalia Hall, along with almost half her U.S. tour. My Woman demands to be noticed, and people are listening.
I arrived at Thalia Hall for her first show on Tuesday, September 27 around 7:15, already early considering doors open at 7:30 and the show starts at 8:30, of which there is also Rodrigo Amarante opening before Olsen will even step on stage. It’s one of those nights that is cool and crisp and exhilarating, signaling the shift into fall. To my surprise there is already a line outside the concert hall, winding into 18th street of Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood.
Amarante’s set is intimate and joyous, and he provides the perfect high note for Olsen to build upon. Olsen and her band walk out onstage in soothing steel-blue and warm chocolate brown hues. Her band almost camouflages with the blue of the velvet backdrop, and the jagged pattern on Olsen’s blouse, equipped with what she called “matron sleeves,” provides just enough contrast to have her stand out.
She opens strong with the second track off the new album, “Never Be Mine.” She’s calm and expressionless, occasionally jerking her shoulder defiantly or stomping her wooden-heeled clogs. As she sings her voice is warm but whiny; her bottom lip seems to pout with each word of longing and love lost like a child who had just heard “no” for the first time. I don’t think Olsen would take “no” lightly, either.
She keeps the attitude going, immediately following with “Hi-Five” from Burn Your Fire for No Witness and “Shut Up Kiss Me,” her hit single from My Woman. From unrequited love to feelings of loneliness and finally demanding the attention she deserves, her opening setlist seems to track Olsen’s personal transformation.
In between songs Olsen playfully banters with the audience, sarcastically cursing the fact that she has a cold. She continually coughs, annoyed, and even at one point wipes her nose on her sleeve.
A member of the audience shouts right before she leads into a new song: “You’re a rockstar now!”
“I always was,” replies Olsen, followed by a sharp laugh.
Sarcastic or not, I believe it. She exudes confidence. Her voice booms through the concert hall and envelops the audience, not comforting like a warm blanket but rather bolstering like a ringing bass drum that demands to be heard to its final hum. I stare at her, perplexed but in awe, wondering how to acquire this fearless energy, edgy attitude.
As I listen I think about what it means to be “my woman.” I think of ownership, of unapologetically proclaiming womanhood. Olsen challenges women to be assertive, to be unapologetic, to be dominant. As she stands center stage her confidence is electric, telling me that because I am woman does not mean I am wrong, and does not mean I should change. To be woman is to be sensitive and strong, sensual and stubborn. I am woman, and I am my own.
She returns to play one last long song, an extended version of “Intern.” It was as if the show before were life, trials and mishaps and heartache, and this was the ascension. Olsen invites the crowd to follow her voice as it climbs to new heights, soaring through the halls in ethereal beauty. It feels like a completely different show, intimate and, dare I say, angelic. I close my eyes and follow her voice, following the feeling of elation.
I wish I could sing that well with a cold. At least confidence is contagious.
Listen to Angel Olsen's newest album, My Woman, below:
Thumbnail photo courtesy of angelolsen.bandcamp.com. Contact Madeline at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Instagram.