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Bucky, Springsteen and getting laid: Angel Olsen at Barrowland Ballroom

ByRobert Bazaral

Feb 27, 2020

There is always something enticing about attending a show at Barrowland Ballroom, with its neon lights and grand entrance making one feel like they’re stepping into a Vegas casino more than a Glasgow concert hall. Undoubtedly, it makes one excited for the performance to come. No atmosphere could have felt more appropriate for the illustrious Angel Olsen.

Not realising until arriving at the show that Hand Habits was the opening act, it was a real treat to see them open for Olsen. They softly crooned folk melody over rather impressive guitar work from guitarist/singer Meg Duffy, who served as Kevin Morby’s guitarist for some time. Her dry humour and requests for the crowd to sing ‘Loch Lomond’ went over well, after announcing their manager was Scottish and had picked up phrases from him like “I’ll shag yer da and yer ma, aye.”

Hand Habits set the stage well for Olsen, who appeared ethereal bathed in luscious white light as she hunched over a synthesizer, belting the pained words of her latest album’s title track, ‘All Mirrors’. Angel spent the show switching at a moments notice from painstaking, passionate performances to lighthearted, long banter in between songs with a snap of a finger. As this was their last show of the tour, they were in no rush to get the show done and sauntered through transitions as Olsen surveyed the crowd, debating who was getting laid on that Valentine’s night.

She truly leaned into the Glasgow crowd, passing a bottle of Buckfast around repeatedly to her band and while noting that it tasted of “dead, fermented blueberries” to her, she took many swigs and was sure to let the Glasgow crowd know that she trusted in its healing properties.

Despite the long, joking banter, when the band snapped into a song the mood was entirely transformed. Whether it was new, bold ballads like ‘Acrobat’ or older, softer tunes like ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’, their virtuosity was brilliant. Her guitarist, Paul, whose name I became very familiar with after much conversation over the Buckfast, laid down gorgeous chords while her crew of strings in the corner seemed totally in sync through every lush moment of performance. It was especially interesting to hear these older, very lo-fi Burn Your Fire For No Witness tunes, not only with much more full audio, but with this large group of strings and instrumentation. While somewhat disorienting, it made the tunes even more gorgeous live and was a welcome treat.

Angel Olsen kept sipping her whisky and the Bucky throughout the night and appeared to be intoxicated towards the end of the set. As the banter got more drawn out and the very loud Glasgow crowd kept engaging with Angel, to which she’d respond to almost everyone, the breaks did grow a bit irritating. While I applaud the effort on her part, there’s only so many times you can survey your audience as to who’s getting it that night, and I’d argue she crossed that barrier. At points even her band seemed to want her to just get on with it, but Angel savoured the last show and the fun interactions that came with it. Who can blame her for that?

While she would do a great encore, her finale was so gorgeous I almost wish she called it there. With the band gone off stage, Angel sat alone, much like in her early days long before she garnered majestic production, large bands, and world tours. With her guitar and a few whiskeys deep, she stood quiet and sung the heartbreaking words of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Tougher Than The Rest.’

Raw, vulnerable, and human, Angel and her guitar stood and quieted the raucous crowd. With a whisper, she murmured, “Well it ain’t no secret I’ve been around a time or two/well I don’t know baby, maybe you’ve been around too./Well there’s another dance/all you gotta do is say yes/and if you’re rough and ready for love/honey, I’m tougher than the rest.” And with a wave and a tear in her cheek, she went out in the night.

Image: Kenny Sun via Flickr

By Robert Bazaral

Second-year Editor in Chief at The Student, specializing in album reviews and opinion pieces on music. IR major and aspiring journalist.