Angel Olsen live @ Whelans 6 June 2014

This promised to be one of those special nights – Angel Olsen arrived for the first of three Irish dates having released one of the year’s most striking albums. ‘Burn Your Fire for No Witness’ won her a legion of new admirers – Olsen’s searing, confessional intensity and raw, elemental approach to making music seems to have struck a chord with music fans tired of slick, over produced rock devoid of any real substance.
Whelan’s was near capacity when Olsen and her band took to the stage – there was no fuss, no fanfare, they just arrived, plugged in and started to play. The first thing you notice is that voice – it is a potent weapon, capable of moving from the sweetest yearning to a full on impassioned cry in the blink of an eye.

The band faithfully replicates the low-fi indie country vibe of the records – at times, it was like listening to Patsy Cline fronting the Velvet Underground as Olsen pulled together a set comprising of songs from each of her three albums. Old favourites ‘Tiniest Lights’ and ‘Miranda’ bore up pretty well while ‘Lights Out’, ‘Stars’ and ‘High and Wild’ from her most recent album predictably drew the biggest cheers of the night. After about an hour, the band departed and Olsen took centre stage – for fifteen minutes, she held the audience absolutely spellbound with stripped back versions of three of her songs.

The highlight was an absolutely stunning version of ‘White Fire’ – this was Olsen at her most effective; every hoarse whisper and anguished cry tightened her grip on an already captive audience.
There was very little of the annoying audience chatter that seems to mar most gigs in Dublin these days, a testament to the magnetism and power of Olsen as a performer. You could literally hear a pin drop during ‘White Fire’, a special moment from a special talent. After a cursory thank you, she left the stage with an expectant audience waiting for the obligatory encore – surprisingly, there was to be none.

Perhaps it was the half-hearted nature of some of the cries for more, but after a five minute wait, the houselights came on and that was the end of the show.  Puzzlingly, she didn’t play two of the best songs off ‘Burn Your Fire For No Witness’ – ‘Unfucktheworld’ and single ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’ were omitted, leaving one with the suspicion that they had been held back for an encore that didn’t happen for whatever reason. It felt like a flat way for the night to end; as good as Angel Olsen and her band were, there were some minor quibbles.

The set could have been paced a little better – it took a while to get going and the inclusion of ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’ would have injected a little bit of that barely contained rage that simmers beneath the surface on ‘Burn Your Fire For No Witness’.
And it was that little bit of fire that was the missing ingredient from an otherwise excellent performance. Ultimately, tonight’s show didn’t add or subtract much from what we already know -Angel Olsen is a unique songwriter and performer, capable of creating magic from heartbreak and loss.