Angel Olsen: Academy, Manchester

As soon as Angel Olsen’s suited and booted band stepped onto the stage, followed shortly after by the singer herself, there was a sense that we were witnessing a group of people on some kind of mission. Buoyed by the rapturous reception that third album My Woman has been receiving from fans and critics alike, it appears that Angel and co are out the make the absolute most of the added attention they are under at the moment, ensuring that the hard work and progress that has been on show throughout their career will finally get them to where they deserve to be. Opening with an energetic ‘Never be Mine’ before treating loyal fans to ‘Hi-Five’ from second album “Burn Your Fire for No Witness”, there was already a growing impression that we might be in for a special show.

This impression increased dramatically with a fantastic rendition of recent single ‘Shut Up, Kiss Me’. Of all the new songs, this one perhaps best displays the evolution of her sound on the latest album. While she is still firmly rooted in her folk tradition, there are elements of rock, country, and other genres on “My Woman” which serve to make her a more versatile artist who suddenly has the potential to be huge. From the reaction to ‘Shut Up, Kiss Me’ in the Club Academy, it seems she’s managed to make these changes while still keeping early adopters firmly on her side.

It had been a hugely encouraging opening to the show. The consummately professional band even brushed off a strange incident in the crowd, remaining calm and very cool as an argument erupted and one audience member leapfrogged the barriers in front of the stage and was quickly followed by security. Angel shrugged and carried on. But the encouragement of the initial performance was to turn to astonishment as early as the fifth-song. ‘Heart-Shaped Face’ hadn’t seemed like the most arresting song on the album prior to this live performance, but within seconds of seeing Angel effortlessly expel the opening lines it took on a whole new meaning. The room, which had unfortunately suffered from a few too many chatty people previously, fell completely silent. As Angel’s vocal efforts went up a few notches, this turned from a fun and enjoyable gig to something truly captivating and memorable. Rarely has a room seem so filled by one voice.

And there was more to come. ‘Heart-Shaped Face’ was followed by a stunning version of ‘Sister’, one of “My Woman”s absolute highlights. It’s hard to put in to words just how good Angel sounded by this point in the show, and the chemistry she shares with her band was equally as impressive. The rest of the main set flitted between her albums and EPs more than might have been expected, giving the impression that the back catalogue will still be respected even if My Woman does take the singer and her band to dizzying new heights. ‘Not Gonna Kill You’, the standout from the second half on the main set, suggests that it might.

If any more evidence that Angel Olsen is a star on the rise was needed, then it was wholeheartedly supplied in an encore made up of two songs from this year’s masterpiece. ‘Intern’ was good, but ‘Woman’, the show’s closer, was absolutely spectacular. Everything that had been good about the whole evening was summed up here; from the vocals to the chemistry, from the effortless way each member went about their jobs to their tendency to jam at the end of a song and turn each quiet gem to a work of real beauty. It felt like a very lucky thing to see this show in such a tiny venue; don’t be surprised if the rooms they play in are a whole lot bigger when the next tour comes around.

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