El Rey Theatre
December 4, 2014
For many people — even in L.A., where you'll find someone sipping a latte at Intelligentsia on a Tuesday afternoon and wonder what that person does for a living — Thursday night is a cause for celebration. For college students everywhere who don't have to go to class the next day, Thursday night marks the official start to the weekend. For others, well, Thursday is one step closer to Friday, which is about the time your brain checks out and tells you it's the weekend anyways.
This Thursday night, December 4, was particularly special. Angel Olsen, the St. Louis-born singer-songwriter heralded for her magnetic sophomore album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness, a spellbindingly original vocal style, and the inability to write a bad song, was performing. That in itself is enough to make any day of the week special — even Monday.
Too bad much of the audience couldn't hear her.
As the audience grew in numbers, something became evident during opener Kevin Morby's set: We had a bunch of talkers on our hands. Perhaps, because Morby's name was not advertised on the show's ticket or the marquee, people had no clue who he was and therefore thought it was cool to do their own thing during his set. It's the kind of dismissive attitude that, unfortunately, seems to be applied to opening acts everywhere.
Had people realized that Morby, former member of Woods and The Babies (formed with Cassie Ramone of the now defunct Vivian Girls), is one of the most talented artists to emerge from the indie rock scene over the last decade, they might have shut up. Instead, they missed a performance of intriguing stories told through well-crafted lyrics accompanied by a Dylan-esque drawl (harmonica and all).
See also: Kevin Morby's Dinner Party Playlist
Then Angel Olsen took the stage with “Free,” a charming, no-frills ode to love. The song opens with the line, “Oh my God, I need you close,” an invitation to the audience to edge nearer to the stage. As a performer, Olsen is remarkably engaged with the crowd, responding to each and every scream of, “I love you Angel!” with a shy smile and an, “I love you, too.”
While some musicians prefer to shut up and play, Olsen tends towards a little banter in between songs. “I played here a few years ago and there were about 80 of you,” she told the crowd. Comparing that number to the packed house in attendance last night was a clear mark of the success of Burn Your Fire for No Witness, an album that will certainly find itself on several Best of 2014 lists.
“You know, we've just been trucking along,” she said before ending her intermission with an “Anyways…” She's a bit awkward, but it only makes her presence more endearing and her smile, sprinkled with chuckles throughout the show, that much more infectious.
While Burn Your Fire for No Witness is tremendously cinematic, with guitar work that is so soaring on tracks like “Stars” and “Windows” that the album feels infinite, watching Olsen live offers a distinctively different experience than her albums do. She switches up arrangements, adds lyrics, and with each chuckle heard in the most unexpected places, makes it all feel very immediate.
It's still impossible not to be engulfed by Olsen's music, no matter how much an oddly-placed smile makes you momentarily forget how chilling a song like “White Fire” truly is. “Everything is tragic, it all just falls apart,” she sang, admitting the song is hard for her to get through when she's having a great show.
However, it was at this time, during the most desolate, stripped-down song of her set, that the incessant chatter resurfaced in the back. It was difficult enough for myself and those around me to focus, but watching Olsen pour herself onto the stage became uncomfortable — it seemed inevitable that she also heard those talking through her set. I felt frustrated as her beautiful whisper of a voice was in a tug-of-war with the conversations in the crowd.
No one's concert experience is more valuable than anyone else's, but we have to ask: What is the point of paying for a concert ticket if you're going to talk through the show?