The Biltmore was filling steadily. With a half assembled audience, opening act Lionlimb began. Stewart Bronaugh’s soft vocals and noodling momentary guitar melodies established a lo-fi atmosphere.
On Lionlimb’s fourth tune, Angel Olsen appeared. Standing in the back right corner of the stage, she held a short glass with a straw. Her voice, dark and sweet like the rum I imagine she was drinking, began to back up Bronaugh’s. As her vocals moved beyond an echo, a bridge of syrupy sound connected two discernable instrumental melodies.
I noticed that within a whole Lionlimb song, distinguishable sections existed. Almost interrupting themselves, an arrangement of notes would evolve abruptly, stepping forward, to the side, and back, in a square or circle. This segmentation was crafted with skill and precision, but was challenging to entirely engage with, as one part did not always flow seamlessly into the next.
Lionlimb played their recently released single “Turnstile,” sixth. Cymbals were struck lightly and piano keys repeated a short pattern. Bronaugh’s vocals emerged within this haze. Guitar riffs flowed as fin-like notes cut in between.
“Turnstile” exemplified the best of Lionlimb: its song structure was fluid enough to be immersive while it retained the band’s particularly surreal lo-fi songmanship.
As Lionlimb slowly released the notes of their last song, the audience produced enough chatter to fill in all the uninhabited moments of quiet.
After intermission, the room was bursting. I no longer stood in front of the stage, but to the side of it, near the drummer. From there Olsen’s vocals sounded less assertive than I might have anticipated and the drumming was boisterous.
Olsen’s band included half of the opening act. Joshua Jaeger played drums and Bronaugh was on guitar, in addition to Olsen, herself, on vocals/guitar and Emily Elhaj on bass.
Olsen introduced her fourth tune: “This next song is about getting the fuck out if you don’t want to be there.” Bold as its set up, the bass notes bloomed into dark circles of sound. Olsen’s vocals glowed from within these dim craters, un-haunting and lovely. Jaeger’s drumming initiated the chorus. The drum notes lingered while Olsen’s voice rose.
As the band performed “Lights Out,” their instrumentation heightened and coloured Olsen’s lyrics. Particularly, the bass and drums provided contrast and intensity to her words.
As Olsen sang, her vocals were clean and strong. Her face was not wild with change, it remained mostly flat and mysterious, and her eyes looked out beyond the audience and through the Biltmore’s back wall. Her lips outlined arresting words as they were released, but her eyes, cheeks, and nose stayed restrained.
Olsen’s voice is a universe. Her crooning in “The Acrobat,” ran over an unrolling guitar path, traversing below and above its steady centre. Her voice was blue with “I want..” and then rusty as she continued to implore: “…to be the bed you made.”
Near the end of her set, Olsen’s band left the stage. An audience member asked if she knew a joke. “No I don’t and I don’t feel like telling one because I only have a few songs left.” Her somber reply was consistent with her control and poise as a performer. It wasn’t a harsh response, it was a crass request. Olsen tells ballads, not jokes.