US cult song­writer seizes her mo­ment in Ber­lin with a set of in­tense coun­try-rock tuneage.

US cUlt hero SeizeS her mo­ment in the ger­man cap­i­tal.

Q (UK) - - Contents - TOM DOYLE



Six years into her slow-build­ing ca­reer, An­gel Olsen in­spires in­tense de­vo­tion from her fans. At one re­cent show in Glasgow, some­one threw a note for her on­stage that hit her square in the face. At an­other in Manch­ester, one fol­lower cried out for her to play her brood­ing song Un­fuck the world im­me­di­ately since the fan had to leave and catch their train home. But when per­form­ing, the St Louis-raised 29- year-old is not one to be rushed, mov­ing as she does be­tween scratchy garage rock and her more typ­i­cal songs of haunted coun­try. “I think peo­ple are still afraid to get too crazy into it,” she says of her usu­ally hushed and rev­er­en­tial au­di­ences. “They want to be re­spect­ful when the quiet songs hap­pen.” Sit­ting back­stage at the Columbia Theater, a for­mer cinema in the Tem­pel­hof area of Ber­lin, Olsen is two weeks into a Euro­pean tour but seems rested and re­laxed. Trav­el­ling with her crew and five-piece band on a sleeper bus, she awoke this morn­ing and had a wan­der around Kreuzberg be­fore find­ing a de­cent veg­e­tar­ian restau­rant af­ter days of “eat­ing crap”. Now she is psych­ing her­self up for the sold-out show in the 800- ca­pac­ity venue. Af­ter teenage years fronting punk­ish St Louis band The Good Fight, Olsen moved to Chicago, re­leased her de­but EP Strange Cacti on cas­sette in 2010 and be­gan a side­line ca­reer singing back­ing vo­cals with gnomic alt-coun­try artist Bon­nie “Prince” Billy, be­fore branch­ing out on her own once again to make her stun­ning break­through al­bum, 2014’s Burn Your Fire For No Wit­ness. Now with this year’s fol­low-up, My Woman, she has added retro elec­tron­ics to her spooked, acutely emo­tional songs. The Cal­i­for­nia-shot video for her lat­est, yearn­ing sin­gle, Sis­ter, is ab­sorb­ing and af­fect­ing. At one point as she re­peat­edly sings the line, “All my life I thought I’d change”, tears roll down her cheeks. The prod­uct of method act­ing or gen­uine sad­ness, Q won­ders? “I think it’s prob­a­bly both,” she laughs, sit­ting in her dressing room. “I was feel­ing very emo­tional. We’d been work­ing 12 hours a day. Whenever I’m re­ally tired I think it’s just eas­ier to cry.” Like PJ Har­vey, there’s a dis­tinct sense that An­gel Olsen is never phon­ing this stuff in. As she takes to the stage in a glit­ter­ing top, sur­rounded by her band uni­formly dressed in grey suits, she is all in­ten­sity and star power, launch­ing into the open­ing, dual Roy Or­bi­son-echo­ing whammy of Never Be Mine and Hi-Five. The ef­fect for the au­di­ence is like being beamed into an­other era, as if we’ve been zapped into a weird, off-strip Las Ve­gas cabaret joint in 1961. Three num­bers in, though, Olsen’s fa­cade slips and a ten­ta­tive­ness re­veals it­self, as she fluffs a line in the rat­tling Shut Up Kiss Me, tem­po­rar­ily los­ing her place in the song. When it ends, she puts the mis­take down to “freestyle ner­vous­ness… you guys are mak­ing me ner­vous.” The Ber­lin­ers re­spond with sym­pa­thetic whoops and the show goes on. As Olsen moves into her qui­eter songs, she re­gains her poise. Around her, the band plays with pre­ci­sion but sparsely, let­ting her voice and gui­tar be the fo­cus. The ghostly twang of Heart Shaped Face and the soul­ful Those Were The Days are ut­terly en­tranc­ing, and even when she stretches the songs out to lengths that might test the pa­tience of a typ­i­cal crowd, Olsen’s fans re­main mes­merised and en­thralled, stay­ing vir­tu­ally silent be­fore erupt­ing with wild ap­plause. Re­turn­ing for a two-song en­core of In­tern and Woman, Olsen ditches her gui­tar to turn side-on to the crowd and sing while play­ing a vin­tage or­gan – its eerie, re­ver­ber­at­ing washes akin to Brian Eno’s am­bi­ent treat­ments if he’d in­vented them in the 1950s. It’s spell­bind­ing stuff. Ear­lier back­stage the singer had told Q, “I just try to get into a mode with each song where I’m putting my­self in that char­ac­ter and mood. I want to de­liver it in a way that’s gen­uine and real.” Watch­ing An­gel Olsen on the now half-lit stage, her enor­mous voice fill­ing the hall with spine-tin­gling at­mos­phere, it’s clear that her enigma is set to grow and grow.

Fringe ben­e­fits: An­gel Olsen, Ber­lin, 25 Oc­to­ber, 2016.

Neon nights: fans gather out­side Ber­lin’s Columbia Theater. “Like being zapped into a weird, off-strip Las Ve­gas cabaret joint in 1961.” Suits you: Olsen with her five-piece band back­stage.

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