There’s a line around the block, 15-20 minutes deep at least. Either they’re giving away free hot dogs, or Angel Olsen is in town. Judging by the giant marquee emblazoned on The Riviera Theatre, it’s the latter.
Shuffling in the it’s-too-cold-for-this-time-of-year-climate-change-is-real
weather, there’s an air of palpable excitement that warms the crowd with expectation. One of the biggest talents from the last decade has just released an album of grand design, the string-laden All Mirrors, and promised an equally spectacular live show. It’s impossible not to be electrified by
NYC-based artist Vagabon takes to the stage first; the project of Laetitia Tamko is backed by a band who help provide the full force of her intimate arrangements. Tamko plays to the back of the room, a magnetic performer who belts her songs with fist-clenched vigour. Watching her unleash
vocal fireworks, one after the other – it’s like the 4th of July with no parental supervision and a sale down at the Kaboom Factory. A stunning display of performance, Vagabon aligns herself with other emotionally pummelling powerhouses like Waxahatchee or Black Belt Eagle Scout. Certainly an artist to bookmark for the next time she swings through Chicago.
As Vagabon disperses, it’s worth taking in the grandiose stage design. A staircase ripped from Buckingham Palace unfurls from the ceiling, banisters as thick as Andre the Giant’s forearms. Drapes of sparkling silver dangle from the rooftop, twinkling like a selection of necklaces from the
personal trove of a Russian oligarch. Yes, it’s a two-dimensional backdrop, but the effect is that we’re privy to something of epic and regal. The audience has been whisked to the atrium of a private estate party, where guests wear opera gloves and there’s a caviar fountain. The ambience
makes sense – after all, we’re in the presence of royalty.
Olsen and her band begin with key cuts from her latest record, including “Spring”, “Lark”, and the slow-release burn of “All Mirrors”. The most immediate takeaway is Olsen’s voice, a myriad of contradicting forces that culminate into something uniquely special. She runs the gamut – rawness,
comfort, yearning, hurt, security, catharsis, devastation – all with the practiced ability to disturb even those with an ironclad lockbox on their emotions. Her vocal delivery matches the honesty of her lyrics. There’s none of the whittling self-pity that tends to accompany songwriters who opt for vulnerability. That blunt force honesty bolsters the power behind her voice to stratospheric heights, rumbling like an emotional tour-de-force bulldozer.
Her band, including the addition of a string section, provides thrilling new muscle to her songs that conquers the entire room. For someone renowned for their ability to speak quiet truths, Olsen blasts with the fire of a performer who knows how well she can shake the core of an audience. A
key display of this pacemaker-stopping ability is the late-set moment of 2016’s supercharged ode to love, “Shut Up, Kiss Me”. One of the only tracks from the show not taken from All Mirrors, Olsen lights up the entire crowd, showcasing an audience that is practically tearing their lungs to shreds
to match her vibrancy.
Every performance of Olsen’s always leaves a lasting, but radically different impression, marked by her most recent release and her evolution as a performer in the eyes of the audience. A 2015 show at Sydney’s Oxford Art Factory left members elated with the sight of a rising new talent in such an intimate setting. A 2016 performance at the similarly named but much larger Factory Theatre gave the audience the opportunity for the mass singalongs they’d wanted since becoming enveloped in
that year’s MY WOMAN. And a 2018 solo performance in the waning golden sun at Boogie Festival in rural Victoria allowed for moments of quiet reflection and humor with what felt like an old friend. Tonight’s show was all about maximalist victory – of performance, of song craft, of vocal-ability. It was a show that stretched to the thousands in the Riviera, but felt directed at the individual. It was a celebration of an artist who continues to evolve in strange and exhilarating ways in front of our eyes, always surprising but never disappointing. Angel Olsen – better than free hot dogs, any day of the week.
By: Ryan Saar
Photos by: Allison Lapinski