February 10th | SWX
Photos: Jessica Bartolini
It seems there are two Angel Olsens. One who rattles with fierce operatic menace and bathes in spectral doom-soaked synths. The other is playful and innocent. A folk songwriter perfecting her craft. A mighty abundance of emotional and stirring fireside ballads. A songwriter to nestle round, gather close for warmth and suddenly feel at ease with the world outside. Both Angel Olsens are utterly arresting in every measure.
Up first is Olsen’s grand, opulent and cinematic persona. A bewitching ‘Princess of Darkness’. As the clock turns nine, SWX is plunged into black. A phantom glare strikes forth. Mesmerising pulses puzzle the stage with an awe-inspiring mystique. Then, a figure of sheer elegance etches and unfurls among a cacophony of smoke-lit atmospherics. An efflorescence of untamed beauty, cloaked in a black sparkly dress and distinct Audrey Hepburn beehive.
Olsen then surges into ‘All Mirrors’, a myriad of space-age synths and haunting string arrangements. Its tense sonic illuminations bubble before exploding into a kaleidoscope of mighty power, an operatic, muscular and brooding wall of sound. We’ve entered an entirely new realm. A superlunary exploration. A towering feat. A quantum encounter. It’s utterly majestic. The audience are trapped – trapped within the fierce clutch of Olsen’s emboldened tenacity.
Without uttering a single word, she rips further into the roaring crescendos and enormous atmospherics that dominated her most recent album, All Mirrors. Strings screech and momentous drums build on ‘Impasse’, as Olsen is engulfed in a rich sense of eeriness. An expertly woven tapestry of monolithic dread that bursts and expands into celestial magnitude. The songwriter imposes her thundering self. An aflame meteor crashing its way through a jet-black outer space.
Then, as Olsen’s roaring majesty reaches its climax, we catch a glimpse of her other side. Her venomous sparks of fury are dialled down. Instead of pulverising the audience with her immense sound, Olsen warms them with a luminescent and comforting glow. Cherry-picked ballads lend to a gracious air of calm and poignant reflection. Olsen has transformed from purveyor of elegant doom to earnest and jokingly sweet songwriter.
She openly asks if the audience have any requests they’d like to hear. With a wry smile, she begins to play ‘Acrobat’ off her debut album Half Way Home. Its gentle folk glistens as SWX falls daintily quiet. Goosebumps crawl their way up skin as thoughts, feelings and apprehensions are lost amongst Olsen’s potent flurry of emotional release. Yet, Olsen seems unaffected. She carries on, toying with her audience like a mischievous schoolchild.
She pretends to play a new song, apparently written after a wild night partying along Bristol’s wind-swept streets. She however, darts into ‘Shut Up, Kiss Me’, a true fan favourite from 2016’s impeccable MY WOMAN. SWX rocks with euphoria as the crowd chant her words back to her. Olsen seems happy, content, joking along with her bandmates and regularly sipping and demanding more whiskey.
Whether catapulted into an alternate stratosphere or neatly bound by shimmering catharsis, Olsen is a spellbinding performer. She boasts elegance while retaining a giddy and humorous personality. She embraces shapeshifting synths while staying true to her folk roots. She’s immaculate at every turn, at every smile and at every crescendo. A headline performance by an artist at her peak.
See the video for ‘Lark’ here: