Review: Angel Olsen at the Governor Hindmarsh

A songwriter equally capable of artful folk-rock gloom and shuddering garage fuzz, tonight Missouri native Angel Olsen finds herself tasked with the unenviable challenge of  bringing a hot, sticky Adelaide crowd on a muggy Wednesday night to life.

She instantly lifts the mood with a few of the catchier cuts from her last two albums, with this year’s infectiously blunt hit Shut Up Kiss Me arriving surprisingly early in the set.

Upsized to the Gov after tickets for its initially announced venue of the Grace Emily quickly sold out, the inevitable change initially invited speculation that this switcheroo is the newest manoeuvre by touring acts to combat Adelaide’s bad reputation for never buying pre-sales. Either way it seems to have worked, with the room comfortably filled with keen fans and a decent cross-section of Adelaide’s indie rock scene to boot.

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Olsen is backed by four bandmates, each immaculately dressed in matching grey jackets, white shirts and bolo ties. It’s a look that evokes Tunnel of Love-era Springsteen, with the heartbreak and guitar solos to match. Perhaps unsurprising given the record was cut live with these same long-time collaborators, the band is taut and precise – the palm-muted, overdriven guitars that appear throughout Olsen’s songs are a good metaphor for the simmering fury the band ably manipulate throughout the night.

On record My Woman packs some inspired guitar tones, and seeing three perfectly complementary players bring the songs to life is a treat. Olsen primarily holds down the rhythm parts, her chords bristling with barely-contained distortion as her two offsiders slide around her playing, for the most part mirroring the core of the song but occasionally spiralling out with biting lead lines, as in Sister.

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For many modern rock acts, throwing in some backing vocals seems an afterthought. Get the bassist to mumble a harmony and the audience will get the gist, they seem to say. With many of Olsen’s songwriting cues and melodic flourishes drawn from the unfairly maligned world of country, it’s only fitting that she went all the way with the addition of an onstage singing partner, whose close harmonies matched Olsen’s tone and intensity to a tee. Watching these two women bellow out tracks like Not Gonna Kill You is both bracingly intense and a total aural pleasure.

The effect is further heightened mid-set as the humid weather gives way to a thumping thunderstorm that washes out the Gov’s beer garden and provides an impromptu light show behind the band. It makes an already electric atmosphere turn quite literal.

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After briefly disappearing offstage, Olsen returns for an encore that all but dispenses with the strummed guitar rock of the main set. Instead, she offers a spacey, down-tempo take on My Woman’s opening track Intern. Driven by the swelling drone of an 80s synthesiser and a laquer of vocal reverb, it showcases a different side to a writer and singer whose growing reputation as of the better songwriters of her generation is well and truly reaffirmed for another night.

Angel Olsen performed at the Governor Hindmarsh on Wednesday, December 8

Photos: Andreas Heuer – AKPhotography 

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