Angel Olsen has a voice that when you first hear it, you are immediately arrested. Last night at Zanzabar, she took the stage by herself, without introduction, while everyone was still milling around and chattering between acts. A very accomplished guitarist, William Tyler, opened for Olsen, his trippy soundscapes setting the mood. Olsen plugged in her guitar and started singing with no fanfare. It was a quiet song that slowly got the attention of the still-gathering crowd, pulling in the outliers and showing that she really doesn't need any introduction. To paraphrase the old adage, she's all cattle and no hat. Olsen seems like the anti-diva, stripped of nonsense, telling a goofy story while she tunes her guitar, and just singing her songs.
Olsen's band mates, bassist Stewart Bronaugh and drummer Joshua Jaeger, joined her for most of the rest of the set, providing a solid rhythm section. Having had a chance to become familiar with her latest release, Half Way Home, I was really curious as to how her voice would translate to a live performance. I was not disappointed. All the nuance is there, and the vocal virtuosity. Frankly, I have a hard time describing her voice because it can do so many different things. I would be no more surprised if she were fronting a punk band than a classic jazz or cabaret ensemble. She delivers quiet, introspective songs with a perfect thousand-mile stare or sports a puckish grin as if she's sharing a private joke with herself in more playful moments.
Olsen really seems to be thinking about the words, turning them over and placing each one carefully as she's singing them -- and it all seems effortless. She is very still, which I think makes the impact of her voice that much more intensely dramatic. There's also a held-back quality, which makes you think she could blow the doors off the place if she really let it rip.
To tell the truth, I was unfamiliar with most of the set list, except for the song "Acrobat" from the new album. I expected Olsen to showcase those songs, but I think she has a deeper catalog to draw from, including new and unrecorded songs. All in all, it was an intriguing show -- a glimpse of an artist who is just beginning to unravel her marvelous talent. While she is soon headed to Europe, she is definitely someone to keep an eye on for future dates in our area.
Nashville guitarist William Tyler
Angel Olsen and Stewart Bronaugh
[Photo Credit: Lee Burchfield]