If there were any such thing as a perfect post-Valentine’s Day venue for the likes of Angel Olsen, it would have to be The Fillmore. Incandescent aquamarine fog slithered on stage, out above the expectant crowd waiting for Angel Olsen to perform last Wednesday, and past the macabre, flickering chandeliers iconic to The Fillmore.
After a calm performance by opener Chris Cohen and a low, sonorous, rumbling bass pre-show intro pulled from the beginning of “Intern,” Olsen and her band took to the stage and opened with a soft rock rendition of “Never Be Mine.” Angel Olsen, with severe eyes, chopped asymmetrical bangs and a silky, shimmery gold slip, contrasted starkly with the rest of her band, who all wore matching country-western suits with bolo ties.
If any one expected Olsen’s live performance to mimic the morbidity of her songs or her expression, they were sadly mistaken. Switching between her onstage electric guitars from song to song and snarkily chattering to the crowd, she and her band seemed to get a delighted thrill out of performing. Olsen was all maudlin pouting and performative wailing during “Shut Up Kiss Me,” and a number of times throughout the night, as if it were a line of dialogue, she’d grin and simper mischievously “Bless y’all, I smell some reefer in the house.” Before a particularly even-tempered performance of “Miranda,” she began asking the audience if anybody had ever been arrested before, and giggled as fans yelled out funny arrest stories to her.
That’s not to say that her performance didn’t deliver on the tear-jerking. In spite of her sarcasm, Angel Olsen in person is a deeply intense artist and performer. A real lighter came out of the crowd to much self-aware laughter for psychoanalytic torch song “Heart Shaped Face” — here slowed down and made as painful as possible by the ever-sadistic Olsen.
The most prominent element of the night, though, lay in her unexpected though welcome performance inspirations from her southern musical ancestry. Along with her normally understood alt-girl sound, many of her other far more surprising inspirations came to the fore. Born in St. Louis and now based in Asheville, North Carolina, Olsen live evoked country rock and southern style far more than in recordings.
With three electric guitars onstage, including Olsen’s, outros and apexes — such as those in “Sister” and “Woman,” respectively — rocked out in full alt-country style. Big old country guitar solos rolled past like tumbleweeds throughout the night, evoking the likes of T Bone Burnett. Dixie Chicks-like harmonies between Olsen and backup vocalist Heather McEntire juxtaposed well with synths that mimicked the sound of a country fiddle rather acutely. During moments of impassioned crooning, Olsen evoked the melancholy stage presence of greats like Dolly Parton and fellow Ashevillian Roberta Flack. At times, it wouldn’t have been that out of place had one of her band members pulled out a harmonica and begun to play.
Though many moments stood out, the highlight of the night may have been “Forgiven/Forgotten.” The Burn Your Fire for No Witness track proved even more unyielding live. Played hard and fast and sung ferociously as if at a punk show, Olsen and her band ended the song sharply after riding it hard, giving the audience whiplash.
After a deafening roar from the crowd at Olsen’s first exit, she and two band members entered for the encore in what would be the first blunder of the night. Coming around full circle from the pre-show rumblings, they began performing “Intern” with Olsen standing at the synthesizer. She seemed to have quite a bit of trouble working the machine, as much of the song was discordant and awkward. The encore featured three songs, with a gorgeous rendition of “Woman” and a fitting 60’s rock-style cover of The Motels’ “Total Control” reviving the finale’s energy after the awkward bit.
Mid-show, Angel Olsen gazed out wryly at the audience and, almost in disbelief, declared of her sold out Fillmore show: “So crazy. Happy belated Valentine’s Day.” For singles and couples alike, what better melancholy romantic than Olsen to bring everyone crashing back to Earth?