There’s an air of exclusivity in the room at a sold out show. Everyone has had their tickets for weeks, maybe months. The Joe Schmos on the street who thought they might grab a last-minute ticket at the door are being turned away. It’s like everyone packed into the venue is helping make pop culture history in real time. Greatness is expected.
The stage was set much in this way for Angel Olsen and her band at Trees, a 600-capacity Dallas club with pillars on the dancefloor made to look like trees. Out came the band at 9:45, all dressed in grey blazers and bolo ties, except Angel who wore maroon head to toe. She opened the show with “Never Be Mine” off her latest album My Woman, which made its way onto many notable “Best of 2016” lists and was largely responsible for the lack of elbow room inside the intimate venue.
The six-piece band delivered a big rocking sound on the opening trio of tunes, with “Hi-Five” and “Shut Up Kiss Me” rounding out a grungy start to the set. It’s a bold move playing your two most radio-friendly hits (“Never Be Mine” and “Shut Up Kiss Me”) in the first three songs of the show, but in doing so, Olsen allowed her rangier compositions—particularly those on My Woman —to anchor more climactic spots on the setlist.
“Lights Out” from Olsen’s first full-band effort, 2014’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness, came next, serving up a big western soundscape. Having established a more spacey sonic framework, the band opened up with an almost 20-minute stretch of music from My Woman. Three songs appear in the same order they do on the album: “Heart Shaped Face” offers mellow blues, the epic “Sister” clocks in at nearly eight minutes, and “Those Were The Days” floats on like an ethereal whisper. This is the sound that defines Angel Olsen today. The instruments are drenched in reverb. The arrangements snappy but strung-out. Lyrically, Olsen is still cautiously optimistic.
So much has this mature, quasi-psychedelic sound become the band’s norm that even Olsen’s old innocent folk tunes have been reimagined to match My Woman’s sophisticated production. “Acrobat,” the opening track on Olsen’s debut album Long Way Home, was once a galloping Nick Drake-esque ballad. But on this particular weekday evening in Texas, “Acrobat” was stretched to nearly twice that length—slow, brooding, and at times haunting. It was one of the show’s most memorable performances, Olsen’s voice powerful but smooth like an organ crescendo.
Of course, all accomplished vocalists can and should refer to their voice as an instrument. But Olsen made this relationship more apparent than most singers. She stressed and inflected her voice like a guitarist flexing their tremolo bar. And much like, say, a Telecaster, Olsen modifies her tone and delivery to fit in a variety of genres. In the outlaw love song “Miranda,” this manifested itself in a sort-of country warble. In “Not Gonna Kill You,” it became a swirling trip back to the alt-rock of the 90s—or 60s just as easily.
The band closed the set with a few of their most rocking numbers: the surf rock “Sweet Dreams” and the punk-oriented tunes “Forgiven/Forgotten” and “Give It Up.”
When they returned for an encore, an ambient wash filled the room, and Olsen crooned the melancholy refrain from “Intern”: Doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, still gotta wake up and be someone. The stage was set for “Woman,” a sprawling number off Olsen’s latest album that surely ranks among her most ambitious songs—perfectly placed in the setlist, before an abbreviated take on The Motels’ “Total Control.”
Whether or not it’s too early to call it timeless, this 93-minute Angel Olsen-stamped moment in pop culture history was immersive. Greatness was delivered. In twenty years, when those who were in that tiny Dallas club unlock the capsule from their memories, I suspect it will open with a fresh pop.