Live Review: Angel Olsen At The Croxton Bandroom, Melbourne

Having sold out her first Melbourne sideshow at The Corner Hotel soon after it was announced, the addition of a second Angel Olsen gig was a forgone conclusion. The folk-tinged indie artist wowed audiences when she toured early last year and with latest album, My Woman, receiving rave reviews, tickets have been in high demand. Headlining the much larger Croxton Bandroom tonight, a colourful cross section of Melbourne music lovers converge upon the Thornbury venue for an evening they soon won’t forget.

The Croxton Bandroom is fast approaching capacity when the lights dim and support act Jack Ladder materialises on stage. A towering presence with a haunting baritone, comparisons with Nick Cave are often prevalent, even from the girl at the merch desk this evening, who described him as “like a young Nick Cave.” But while the comparison may be easy, there’s a lot more to him than a carbon copy of Cave. There’s a dark humour to his lyrics of love and loss, and when combining with his brooding guitar work and captivating stage presence, it’s hard to fault the authenticity in his talent.

Performing without his backing band The Dreamlanders makes this performance all that more personal. The normally synth heavy Come On Back This Way and Her Hands transform into balladic numbers, giving Ladder’s voice an open platform to reach the far corners of the venue over the swirling guitar licks. Older tracks Hurtsville and Beautiful also get a look in, and although it’s obvious that most in attendance aren’t familiar with his work, he’s an engaging frontman with his dry sense of humour and captivating vocals making it hard for anyone to ignore him. I have no doubt he picked up a few new fans that night.

There’s nervous excitement in the air as the crowd waits what seems like an eternity for Olsen to appear. Almost an hour after Ladder’s exit, the curtain finally parts to reveal Olsen and her five piece band at the ready. The cheering and catcalls quickly subside as Olsen launches into the country swagger of Never Be Mine.

The following hour and a half flies by as Olsen entertains with a set heavy on tracks from her past two albums, 2016’s album of the year contender, and 2014’s sleeper hit Burn Your Fire For No Witness. The 60s pop explosion of Shut Up Kiss Me, downtrodden Heart Shaped Face and sombre Give It Up elicit hearty applause, with Olsen sporting a playful smile as she rocks out.

Her band – dressed in identical light blue suits and white shirts – provide the perfect backdrop for Olsen’s lyrics on love, romance and heartache. Not Gonna Kill You is given extra depth with the dulling guitars while the harmonies on the rocking Forgiven/Forgotten and indie-folk Lights Out are a thing of understated beauty. Olsen herself is a bewitching figure. Stood front and centre with her guitar firmly strapped across her body, there’s a touch of Sharon Van Etten about Olsen’s gothic country stylings and emotionally poignant lyricism. While her songs often deal with lost love and broken hearts, she’s good natured and humours, wishing one punter named Charlie a happy birthday and asking the crowd where she can go rolling skating (the answer is Sunshine Roller Skating Centre).

Olsen slips in one of her first recordings (Drunk And With Dreams) for longtime fans before finishing her set with the explosive indie thumper Give It Up. The inevitable encore is only two tracks long, but lasts almost 15 minutes. Joined by her guitarist and bassist, she then gets behind the synthesiser for Intern, the first single off My Woman. As the song comes to a close the rest of her band re-appear for an epic version of Woman. Lasting almost 10 minutes, Olsen serenades the crowd with her soothing vocals, and as she leaves the stage for the final time, it’s easy to see why she will continue to fill larger venues as her body of work increases.

Image: Stereogum