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Angel Olsen Delivers a Gentle Knockout at Music Hall of Williamsburg

May 14th, 2014

Angel Olsen – Music Hall of Williamsburg – May 13, 2014

Angel Olsen – Music Hall of Williamsburg – May 13, 2014
In the buildup to Muhammad Ali’s historic 1974 win against George Foreman, Ali declared that his strategy was to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” That phrase stuck in my head throughout Angel Olsen’s sold-out show at Music Hall of Williamsburg last night. Her singing voice has the uncanny ability to be at times flighty and beautiful and at other times shrill and piercing, never overdoing it with either style. The different tones often come out singing the same line, sometimes even phrasing the same word, which puts an added emphasis on her lyrics, even further embellished by her backing band—at times just playing light accompaniment then turning on a dime into some blues-heavy riffage.

“But all I want, all I ever need, is someone out there who believes,” Olsen sang gingerly on “Hi-Five.” Then her band jumped in with bass and snare as her voice got more biting to sing, “Sometimes believe, not always believe, sometimes believe.” The hairpin turns revealed an emotional honesty to her songwriting, opening a wide range of expression within her songs. This contrasts wonderfully with her adorably timid stage banter, shyly asking the audience questions like, “Do you guys have taco Tuesday here?” or “Have you guys ever been arrested before?” or my favorite, “Isn’t it weird … [laughs], never mind.” Olsen’s band left her on her own for the set’s final three songs: “Iota,” “White Fire” and “May As Well.” All three leaned heavily on the lighter side of her singing, as if she were almost crooning through a whisper. Backed by just light guitar playing, it was like the songs were so fragile and delicate they were hardly there at all, the gentle knockout punch of the night. —Dan Rickershauser

Photos courtesy of Peter Senzamici | petersenzamici.com