GREAT AMERICAN MUSIC HALL, SF
03 MARCH, 2014
While the Noise Pop Festival concluded its yearly run on Sunday, the following day offered up a gentle reminder that San Francisco never sleeps, as the Great American Music Hall welcomed Angel Olsen. Olsen's been making her way up the state, selling out in San Diego and wowing Los Angeles.
Her newest album, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, saw her transition to a full band, and the show reflected accordingly. Opening with "Hi Five", Olsen cast her spell from the get-go, milking a fat fuzz-tone to offset the longing and dislocation of the lyrics. Along with "Forgiven/Forgotten", they've opened her up to a whole new audience, but one gets the impression that it would be dangerous to trap her in any one place, as evidenced by her droll observation, "Got that one out of the way...", at the song's conclusion.
"Stars" showed off the band in full flight, and with "Lights Out", the groove was locked in. With her sardonic stage presence and unshakeable mien, she would make a fine denizen of The Roadhouse, should David Lynch ever get moving on that rumored reboot of Twin Peaks. The records only half prepare you or what's to come, and when she finally cuts loose with The Voice, it's truly one for the ages, and all the sudden those Roy Orbison comparisons are starting to make sense. The foundation of that comparison is not purely the voice, but the subtext, the songs of finding strength in the pain, the literal forging of one's self in the fire. The peak of the evening was a dynamic take on new album closer "Windows", starting soft and lulling one in, before the band came in on a wave and rode the song to an immense conclusion. The band left the stage on that high note, but Olsen remained to essay a gut-clenching solo take on "Enemy" that reduced the noisy dinner hall to utter silence. A musical E.F. Hutton moment, to be sure, and an exclamation point to the evening. While her musical pallete has broadened, the roots are strong, and the only question seems to be where she wants to go.
Cian Nugent opened things up in style, with the Irish folkie picking his way through a meandering acoustic journey, seemingly oblivious to the rustling crowd. As the song progressed and his technical expertise became undeniable, engagement began. On "Double Horse", a stark cut that built to an intense conclusion, he thoroughly made his mark, and received a thundering ovation. Switching over to electric, he pulled out a Michael Hurley cover, a perfect choice for a San Francisco audience. As a lesson in faith in one's own vision, and as a prelude of what was to come, it was a fitting start to the evening.