Angel Olsen put on a transfixing, beautiful concert Thursday night at the Agora, giving her already dynamic music even more range with a crack band and a setlist that spanned her entire career.
That’s great, a lot of the audience said, but I came to chat with my friends.
Indeed, the crowd at Olsen’s concert was one of the worst in recent memory, and that’s saying something. Cleveland audiences have been particularly chatty over the past several years. It doesn’t matter what venue it is, people just don’t want to zip it.
I will never understand the desire to pay good money to be in a room with a top-rate musician, only to ignore the show and have a superfluous conversation with others. Why not do that somewhere else for free?
It’s a good thing that Olsen — who gently told the crowd at one point that it needed to “shut the fuck up” or that she would “whoop you" — and her band was often loud enough during her 90-minute set to drown out most of the chatterboxes.
The singer/guitarist is touring behind last year’s excellent “Big Time.” On Thursday, Olsen and her six-piece backing group, complete with a violin and cello player, was lush, gentle, biting and roaring, sometimes within the same song.
Opening with “Dream Thing” off her new album, Olsen was the cool center of the ever-evolving music surrounding her. The delivery of her beautiful vocals seemed effortless, even when they soared on songs like “Go Home” or ably cut through her band’s powerful playing on “Lark.” And when her band descended into noisy but controlled chaos, she was the cool compsure holding it together at the center.
Other songs like “Through the Fires” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on 1940s radio. All they were missing was a bit of static.
Oh, and Olsen was funny too. Seemingly prepping the crowd to hear an unfamiliar tune, she said she wanted to try something new that she wrote as she pulled into Cleveland Wednesday night, commenting on the dreary winter currently enveloping the city.
“Hey I’m from St. Louis so I get it,” she said. “If you can be inspired there you can be inspired here.”
Olsen then tore into “Shut Up Kiss Me,” perhaps her best-known song.
After closing the main set with the baroque “Chance,” she returned with a cover of the Badfinger-by-way-of-Harry-Nilsson song “Without You," a tune that singers love to belt. Olsen ably hit every note and the desperate sentiment of the lyrics without resorting to histrionics.
By that point, it seemed like the entire crowd was finally paying attention. Or maybe members of the audience had finally run out of things to talk about.
Singer/songwriter Erin Rae ably opened up the show with a tranquil set of country-inflected folk music, holding her own for nearly 45 minutes. Her plainspoken delivery elevated her deceptively simple songs to something more than a pleasant affair. But like with Olsen, too few were actually listening.
1. Dream Thing
2. Big Time
3. Ghost On
4. Right Now
5. Shut Up Kiss Me
6. Give It Up
7. All Mirrors
8. Go Home
9. Through the Fires
11. This Is How It Works
13. All the Good Times
15. Without You (Badfinger cover)
Eric Heisig is a freelance writer in Cleveland. He can be reached at [email protected].