Angel Olsen
Angel Olsen 2022 | Credit: Javier Bragado/Redferns

Angel Olsen Review – Laughter, Pain and Anger in Equal Doses

Angel Olsen performed at Sydney Opera House on Monday, 6th March. Joseph Earp reviews.

Angel Olsen is funny. Though the singer-songwriter has won acclaim over a long career that has seen her morph from stripped back, eerie folk to full band, ‘80s-inspired heartbreak anthems, to a country record that’s not really a country record, her humour tends to go under reported.

Angel Olsen knows that heartbreak and love are all-consuming, definitely – every album she’s released has at least one anthem where she stands in the aftermath of hurt and passionately restates herself as a means of healing. And yet she also knows if you step away from them even half an inch, you’ll see that the world is still comically doing its thing around you. You might’ve just been dumped, but you still have to do the laundry.

Angel Olsen – ‘Big Time’

That humour was explicitly displayed during Olsen’s tremendous show at the Sydney Opera House. So laidback as to seem like she was drifting through her back catalogue, picking up songs and showing them to the audience in her cupped hands, she cracked jokes near constantly.

She made odd sucking sounds into the microphone, and when the audience awkwardly laughed, she said she was just trying to get something out of them. She launched into a lengthy bit about how she was going to play a song she’d written the night before, which was eventually revealed to be 2016’s ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’, quite possibly Olsen’s most popular song. She drawled, and she laughed.

The sum effect of this patter, when combined with the full, awkward, beautiful force of her songs, was a show of stunning intimacy. Olsen might have occasionally regarded the audience with cocked-eyes, but she wasn’t holding us back at ironic remove. She was there, all of her, winding through her recent album Big Time, and then flashing back to hits from MY WOMAN.

The band, featuring a cellist and a fiddle player, as well as a rock rhythm section, was tight and controlled. Her voice – that voice! – was as good as it always is, particularly on ‘Big Time’, which crashed and reared its head like a bull pushed down a flight of metal stairs. An encore performance of Harry Nilsson’s ‘Without You’ had the grit and humanity of a late night karaoke session, and the technical prowess that has been a feature of Olsen’s performances from day dot.

But the lasting impression of the night was that of watching a musician at the height of their powers giving it all – the laughter and the pain and the anger, in equal doses. And not seeming strained while she did it, either. Instead, acting like it was the most natural thing in the world – which, for Angel Olsen, it seems like it might be.

Further Reading

Angel Olsen Adds Intimate Melbourne Show to 2023 Australian Tour

Golden Plains Reveal 2023 Set Times, Add 1300 and More to Lineup

MUNA Review – Affection Goes Both Ways at LA Trio’s Sydney Headline Show

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