Angel Olsen at Kilby Court. Photo: Brent Colbert
After a few weeks of sunshine and warmth, a Monday April snow shower fell upon Salt Lake City. Despite such melancholic circumstances, (Monday, snow—ugh), a full crowd came out to see Angel Olsen, Villages and local folk rockers The Awful Truth.
Brent Colbert, The Awful Truth’s singer/songwriter, has been a vital member of Salt Lake’s music scene for years, and tonight was a bittersweet show for him. It’s Colbert’s second to last show in Salt Lake—he’s moving to Minneapolis soon. He’ll be greatly missed, but the community of musicians that he’s been a part of will surely further his momentum with their own artistry (drummer Cathy Foy’s just released some new music of her own and Sam Burton’s starting a cool indie pop band you should check out). The group was really on point; their set of melancholic folk-rock tunes was confidently delivered and it was really great to see them performed with a full band.
With such a common name as Villages, I had a hard time finding anything about Ross Gentry’s music before the show (though I’ve since learned he’s an Asheville, North Carolina resident who shares Angel Olsen’s previous record label, Bathetic). Gentry’s approach levels a challenge on traditional listening methods (it’s post-rock, reductionists would say). On stage, he had set up a table draped in black, dressed with his Macbook, electronics and three tall, luminous candles that lit the entire room. A gentle rumble began, as Gentry crouched behind the table, which intensified into a noise that resembled how one thinks a desolate environment would sound when transcribed in music. He rose with the music, with a guitar that he manipulated with bows and slides, similar to Jonsi of Sigur Ros. Gentry’s music wasn’t as catchy, though—he played one continuous piece with several distinct movements. I saw Godspeed! You Black Emperor last year, and the effect of such similar music is greatly thought provoking; it’s about the experience of listening itself as much as the music. Kilby was decently crowded for a Monday night, and, like a John Cage performance piece, I felt compelled to hear the weight of the souls and soles shuffling about the venue as much as the expressionistic noise created solely by Gentry.
Gentry’s performance acted as an introspective foil to Angel Olsen’s set of affecting ballads and folky love songs. Her songs uncover a bygone era of folk and country Americana, when music was simpler, or at least less cluttered with electronics. Her voice recalls artists such as Joan Baez or Patsy Cline, or Judy Garland even. To quote the reductive again, she’s a chanteuse, or a songstress with a timeless voice. I’m not much familiar with the specific era that Olsen’s voice resembles, but that feeling it evokes is so strong, and so captivating, and when combined with her lyrics, she creates something deeply affecting. Angel Olsen hasn’t come out of just nowhere, though; she’s toured with Bonnie “Prince” Billy as a back-up “Babbler” and records with him as part of his Cairo Gang. Yeah, she’s been around, and with her own tour she’s been bringing Americana back to America.
Olsen brought a full band on tour—a cellist, a bass player and a drummer—while she sang and played an electric guitar. Their set was Half Way Home heavy, covering great tunes from that release of last year, like “Acrobat” and “The Waiting” early on. They played “Miranda,” where Olsen covers lyrical themes that have become fallow since the ’60s—it’s a ballad about prison love, and sounds like something June Carter could’ve written for Johnny—with such lovesick lyrics: “Don’t you know you’re wanted in 50 states / I love you dear, but it’s not up to me.” Olsen’s delivery was simple—it’s stunning to see her belt out these powerful warbles while barely moving. The songs rely on modest but masterfully written lyrics and Olsen’s beautiful voice, which the players complemented perfectly. They played another two songs from Half Way Home, “The Sky Opened Up” and “Tiniest Seed,” and a newly released track, the stellar rock n’ roll song “Sweet Dreams,” before the rhythm section left Olsen and cellist Danah Olivetree. The pair played a soft and sweet version of “Some Things Cosmic,” a track off of an earlier EP, Strange Cacti. Then, Olivetree left too, and Olsen performed one final song on her own, one, which I couldn’t pin down, (was it “Lonely Universe”?) that haunted me nonetheless, with devastatingly heartbreaking lyrics dealing with the loss of a great love. While the full band was fantastic, Olsen was even more formidable without them—with just her faint guitar strumming and trembling voice.