A jetlagged Angel Olsen desperately wants to sleep. Instead, the American singer-songwriter rocks the Rechabite with astonishing vocals in a killer set spiked with humour, writes Julie Hosking.
The Rechabite Hall, 7 March 2023.
“If I don’t talk to you much tonight, it’s not because I don’t love you,” Angel Olsen tells the packed crowd at the Rechabite after several songs with little repartee.
It is, as she reminds us with increasing hilarity over the evening, because she is just so damn tired. The singer-songwriter performed at Sydney Opera House the night before and has fronted up after a few hours sleep, jetlag dragging at her heels.
“Should I be saying this?” she asks at one stage, pondering the headlines. “Angel Olsen Tells Us How She Really Feels!” She pauses. “You know, I wanted to be a reporter growing up but I ended up writing songs.”
Thank heavens for that. And for that incredible voice. It may hurt to hit those high notes on very little sleep, as Olsen attests, but she’s pushing through the pain with heroic intent, bending and twisting that enviable instrument in every direction.
Supported by a super sextet on guitars, drums, keyboards and strings, the Missouri native is an expert at volume control, adjusting her vocals so many times it’s dizzying. Mournful and melodic, plaintive and pleading, raw and roaring. The band matches her note for note, mood for mood – soulful string for heartfelt lament, rousing riff for defiant stand, crashing drum for unleashed anger.
The set for her opening Perth Festival show is a welcome blend of the old and the new; Olsen reaching into the archives for Give it Up (from 2012’s debut album Halfway Home) and the popular Shut Up Kiss Me (2016’s My Woman) and bringing fans all the way up to her latest album, last year’s Big Time.
Oft described as a folk or indie-pop singer, Olsen defies musical boxes. Close your eyes and you could be listening to Emmylou Harris one beat, Lucinda Williams or Natalie Merchant the next, even Patti Smith. On the epic ballad Chance, she sounds like an ethereal blend of the Cowboy Junkies’ Margo Timmins and French chanteuse Edith Piaf. But it’s all Olsen, bringing an astounding range to every one of her carefully crafted songs.
While the alt-country flavoured Big Time leans more toward Harris than Smith – especially with a new take on my favourite All the Good Times – Olsen can rock it with the best, when she’s not cracking jokes. “We’re just going to play one more song,” she teases six tracks in, before launching into a rousing Forgiven/Forgotten and the extraordinary ballad Lark.
Needing a bit of Dutch courage to get her to the finish line – or through the next “25-minute song” — Olsen requests beers all round. She cracks open an alcoholic ginger beer with suspicion, before pulling the audience back into the music with a yearning (seven-minute) Sister: I want to know you/I want to show you/I want to be there/I want to see her.
“Is anyone coming back tomorrow? You’ll see the difference,” she says, eluding again to the ‘delirium’ wrought by sleep deprivation. I would if I could – if this is what she brings with one wing clipped, the promise of a rested Olsen is enticing – but, just like her first show, it’s a sellout.
When the band returns for one final encore, a cover of Badfinger’s heartbreaker (I Can’t Live if Living is) Without You (later a hit for Harry Nilsson), an aching Angel howls “I can’t give any more”. We know it’s true. But what a gift she’s given.
Pictured top: Angel Olsen is a voice to be reckoned with at the Rechabite. Photo: Sophie Minissale
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