After the horrific events of the previous evening in Manchester – where a suicide attack killed 22 people and injured 59 others at an Ariana Grande pop concert in the city’s Arena – the very act of going to see live music and the idiom “the show must go on” suddenly take on an even greater emotional resonance. Here we are in Leeds, just the other side of the Pennines and not much more than 40 miles away from the scene of the latest terrorist atrocity. It all suddenly feels very close to home. As a mark of respect to those who had been mercilessly murdered and maimed in Manchester, there is an argument for not coming to the Stylus tonight to see Angel Olsen and her band perform. But to not do so would surely be bending to the will of barbarism and its sickening perpetrators stated intention of creating a climate of fear.
The relative darkness of ‘Heart Shaped Face’ reflects much of the solemnity leading up to this event. Yet for all of the sadness that lies at the core of this song and the record from which it is taken – Angel Olsen’s imperious third album, My Woman – the true spirit of her words and music is that of fearsome resilience and utmost defiance. There is a hidden strength and quiet determination lying deep within Olsen that slowly begins to emerge as the night unfolds.
Backed by her impeccable five-piece band – all sharply dressed in matching slate-grey suits and bootlace ties – and after the false dawn of ‘Heart Shaped Face’, Olsen loads much of her more full-throttled indie-rock infused material to the front of the set. ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’ and ‘Not Gonna Kill You’ are compelling cases in point, perfectly illustrating the burgeoning confidence and muscularity in her sound.
Yet it is when Angel Olsen slows everything down that things start to get really interesting. ‘Acrobat’ – from her second album Half Way Home – is mesmeric, the languid expression of the song’s words adding to its seductive quality. The ensuing ‘Sister’ stretches out magnificently before us; where earlier Olsen’s voice had flirted outrageously with that of Maria McKee, here it bleeds into the dreamier side of Rumours-period Stevie Nicks. It is not until you experience Angel Olsen’s voice in person do you realise what a wonderfully versatile, emotive and downright powerful instrument it is.
A five-song encore begins with Olsen alone on the stage. A spellbinding ‘Lonely Universe’ drifts into the wholly apposite ‘Unfucktheworld’, before her band rejoins her. By ‘Fly On Your Wall’ Olsen has metamorphosed into a fully-fledged temptress, caressing the microphone as if it were some distant, half-forgotten lover. And then with the last strains of ‘Windows’ reverberating around the Leeds University Union she has gone, leaving us all with heart, hope and her deep sense of humanitarianism, beliefs that twenty four hours beforehand had seemed irrevocably lost.
Photo Credit: Simon Godley
More photos from this show can be found HERE