Angel Olsen is a light in the dark at Westward Music Festival

Angel Olsen with Jennifer Castle at the Vogue Theatre, 9/15/18

Angel Olsen, “Hi-Five” video

Angel Olsen is best known for her melancholy folk songs and withdrawn demeanour. But she was affable at the Vogue Theatre last night (Sept. 15) as part of Westward Music Festival.

A hush fell over the Vogue when opener Jennifer Castle walked onstage. She took her time tuning her guitar and testing her harmonica. “Hi,” she whispered when she was ready to begin her solo electric set. Thus began an unhurried evening.

From her first song, “Tomorrow’s Mourning,” until her fourth, “Rose Waterfalls,” she did not break for applause. Each song was a fractured moment, but it flowed into the next. Periodically, she inserted chords that broke up her finger-picking the way a rock splits a river. Even when she paused, the audience only piped up with polite, scattered, avian “woos.” Any time she picked up speed, though, the audience whooped without reservation.

Like Castle, Olsen seemed relaxed, which the audience reflected, creating a lighthearted mood. She apologized for her guitar having been out of tune during opener “Sans.” “It’s always the first one,” she observed. She giggled during songs, aware of how dramatic some of them were. “Everything is tragic,” the first line of “White Fire” went. She and the audience laughed together before she continued: “It all just falls apart.” 

Olsen noted that she wrote “White Fire” when she was 22 years old, before she knew what pain was. “And then it just gets worse. Then you just laugh about it, at a point.” Singing her youthful melodrama, alone with her guitar, illuminated by minimal lighting – “White Fire” was the quintessential Angel Olsen experience. The song lingered in the air like the mechanical fog that surrounded her.

When Olsen was not hypnotizing the audience with “Some Things Cosmic” or “Unfucktheworld” or fulfilling repeated requests for “California,” she was fixating on poutine. She craved it and mused about the difficulty of bringing it across the border, on the plane. After her fourth song, she told the audience, “I’m just going to do a couple more. Then you can go hit your poutine or whatever.”

Despite Olsen’s rambling conversations (she also asked about the legality of pot in Canada), she ended the evening with no flare. “It’s a Bruce Springsteen song,” she said after “Tougher Than the Rest.” Then she walked offstage, blowing out the candle that was her performance.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu