Angel Olsen’s success feels like a win for good taste

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Angel Olsen is in stunning form. And the people of Australia are voting with their feet.

It’s awfully snooty to shit on commercial pop music. It’s a real pet peeve. If people enjoy banging feel good anthems and sappy, overwrought ballads, who are we to say they are wrong?

But every now and then the top 40 really grates on you. Usually when you’re subjected to it at obscene volume without your consent and when you can’t escape. It's why I pretty much buy all my clothes online.

Such was the case on my trip to Angel Olsen’s Brisbane show late last week. The driver had the radio blaring and everything just felt so soulless. The new Bruno Mars had no substance, James Arthur’s song sounded like it was written solely for weddings, graduation videos and cider commercials.

When you’re grumpy – and I must’ve been – it’s kinda demoralising to hear this cookie-cutter music triumph over true artistry.

But what happened next restored my faith entirely.

There must have been close to 800 people crammed into the carpark of The Brightside for Angel Olsen’s show. It was easily double what the promoters were anticipating she would pull (the show was originally scheduled to take place inside the venue).

Such is the rapid ascent of Angel Olsen. Good news is, the standard of her music and live show has lifted to meet the expectations of a bigger audience.

Firstly, her voice was perfect. Not good. Not great. Perfect.

She hit all the notes, but that’s only half the battle, What’s most affecting is that we believed what she was singing. When she was angry in ‘Not Gonna Kill You’, when she was frustrated in ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’ and when she was yearning in ‘Sister’, you knew she was not messing around.

‘Shut Up Kiss Me’, perhaps the year’s best song, sounded as good live as it does on record. The creepy ‘Intern’ served as a haunting encore opener and her falsetto of the night – no mean feat after 90 minutes of singing.

Her band offered a masterclass in restraint. Yes, they broke out into powerful bursts of noise when needed. But they were there to serve the songs and do so by ably switching from alt-country to sweet and smooth soft rock without fuss.

Olsen rarely addressed the audience. And when she did, it was hardly scintillating banter. For some, that’s a black mark, but when the rest of the show was so good, it hardly feels important.

Angel Olsen released one of the year’s best records and backed it up with one of the year’s best shows. What’s even more exciting is that she sold tickets to these shows by the bucket load. People are listening.

While you probably won’t hear her songs blaring out of your Uber driver’s speakers any time soon, she’s got enough people on board that you need not worry about the songs that top the charts. There’s plenty of support for high-calibre music, here’s hoping Angel Olsen gives us plenty more in the years and decades to come. 

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