Angel Olsen Takes Over Brooklyn
Photos & Text: Cory Weaver
A false fire alarm, a mint-green tour bus and a failed—yet comedic—attempt at a Collective Soul cover. This was Angel Olsen at Brooklyn Steel. The former 20,000-square-foot steel fabrication shop turned venue is less than three years old and has already become a mainstay for live shows in New York City, catapulting itself onto the list of top NYC venues with the likes of Webster Hall, The Music Hall of Williamsburg and Terminal 5.
It’s a big deal to sell out the 1,800-capacity venue. It’s even a bigger deal when you do it three nights in a row, which is what Angel Olsen did November 21, 22 and 23.
Olsen’s fourth and newest album, All Mirrors, is a critically acclaimed, synth-heavy, cavernous ebb and flow of the singer-songwriter’s emotional landscape; one that lacks a sense of time or place and vocals that leave a haunting impression. Olsen’s live music has the same effect, as experienced after her 100-minute set in East Williamsburg.
Olsen opened the set with “New Love Cassette,” the fourth track on All Mirrors, and it was the perfect track to set the mood for the night. The album version is dominated by synth, but live, the bass is hard hitting and gives the song a darker, rock feel.
The crowd seemed to be in a trance after the opening, gazing steadily at the stage, mesmerized by Olsen’s poignant vocals that were elevated by only experiencing her live.
The sold-out crowd snapped out of it when she went into “All Mirrors,” a track that most of the crowd had been listening to online before its official release on October 4.
Songs from All Mirrors dominated the set, and five out of the next six songs, including “Summer,” “Lark,” “Impasse,” “Special” and “Tonight,” were from the new record. Breaking up the new with some old was “Sweet Dreams” from Phases.
“I don’t know why, but I feel like fighting… sometimes you just need to hit something.”
Between “Lark” and “Impasse,” someone tossed an empty, plastic mini wine bottle on stage. Olsen remarked, “If you’re going to throw drinks on stage, make sure it has something in it. Who throws empty bottles of wine on stage?!” Nothing came of this, however—no boos, no security, just Olsen saying, “I don’t know why, but I feel like fighting… sometimes you just need to hit something.” A singular voice then yelled out, “Whoo! St. Louis!” which made Olsen smile.
After the banter, the symphonic, soft, cinemascope glimpse to her soul ballad, “Tonight” made one feel as if you were alone among 1,800 other people, accompanied by the memory made real of a sudden break-up. Pairing the melancholy of, “I like the air that I breathe / I like the thoughts that I think / I like the life that I lead / Without you / Without you / Without you / Without you” with a few smiles, as she refused to succumb to the dark, a sign that she’d found closure and conquered through acceptance, gained control and moved on.
It came at an ideal time in the set, as she prefaced the next four songs, “I’m gonna play some really old ones. You probably don’t know them and that’s OK. I wrote them a long time ago. It’s OK that you don’t know them, it takes a lot to hurt my feelings these days… so good luck out there.”
Perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek, she and her six-piece band exploded with “Shut Up Kiss Me” from My Woman, Olsen’s old calling card and mega hit. It was a fun three minutes, obliging the group singalong and breaking the norm of the night with a rock tune. She closed the set with “Some Thing Cosmic” from Strange Cacti and “Acrobat” from Half Way Home.
For her “encore” (if you will, as she never left the stage), she stood alone in a beam of white light and sang a stripped-down “Chance” as one last offering; it’s also the final track on All Mirrors.
She gave the audience a bonus, as the band came back on stage and gave a better-than-recorded version of “True Blue,” Olsen’s hit collaboration with Mark Ronson.
The big takeaway from the first night of three with Angel Olsen at Brooklyn Steel was that she is indeed a star on many levels. Her multifaceted renderings make her unable to be pinned down to one genre, and her vocal ability is so dynamic, it’s almost addictive. As she said in a 2014 interview with the Riverfront Times, “I'm not prep, I'm not punk, I'm not grunge, I'm not emo. The only label I go by is my name, which happens to be Angel — even though it doesn't make sense when you compare it to my character.”