Austin – It’s that odd season in Austin—winter—when it could be anywhere from 20 to 80 degrees and anywhere from a light dusting of snow to rain. After a week of heat and sun, the weather cooled down, the rain fell, and an eager audience followed the buzz to Red 7 to catch the much blogged about, Angel Olsen. Following critical praise of her stunning sophomore album, “Burn Your Fire for No Witness” (Jagjaguwar), Ms. Olsen hit the road, making sure to stop in the music capital. Though she will return in two weeks for SXSW, Austin music fans know it’s important to see an artist in their natural habitat.
Local favorite, Jess Williamson, dressed the night with her expression filled folk. Using her voice as the lead instrument, Williamson managed to twist a knife through the spine of the audience while rubbing our backs to comfort us. As her voice escalated during “Blood Song,” she sang, “I heard about the blood/And I can’t bleed enough/When we are not in love.” It was a song and night for whiskey. Her emotion was followed by a performer who expressed his own emotions in a very different way. Cian Nugent began his set with twenty minutes of solo acoustic guitar and, using only his instrument to speak, he left the audience feeling just as rubbed raw. Ending his set with two songs that included vocals—one including Angel Olsen’s band—felt almost like a cop out that broke the tone of the perfectly strummed guitar.
Lovely as they were, Williamson and Nugent were merely a warm up for the main attraction. Angel Olsen’s album feels like a secret the artist is reluctant but pining to tell. As she stood alone on the dim-lit stage and strummed the first chords to “Unfucktheworld,” and quietly fed her hummingbird voice through the microphone, not even a whisper could be heard. I can’t remember the last time I heard an audience fall speechless. No one dared say a word for fear the siren might not gift us with her song. Over the quiet, Olsen continued, her band joining her for “Forgiven/Forgotten” and it became clear she would be playing her album in its entirety.
It is a privilege to watch “No Witness” unfold live. She gave on “Hi-five” to immediately pull back on “White Fire,” allowing for only the delicate buzz of her guitar to guide her voice, in a near whisper, through the song. Though her music more than communicated to the audience, her adorable light banter between songs only made the audience fall more in love with this button-nosed creature. “It’s hard drinking beer on stage because you get in the middle of a yodel and then,” she let her voice trail of in to the audience’s light giggle.
Her voice shakes in a violent croon while all at once drifting in to a sweet accent harkening to country sweethearts like Loretta Lynn. The show culminated with a standout performance of “Drunk and With Dreams” off her first EP, “Strange Cacti.” She doesn’t often allow for a belt but “Drunk” left her voice bouncing from every black wall of the building.
Olsen walked offstage with no encore as the audience stood waiting, hoping, she wouldn’t make us walk out in to the rain just yet.
Top Photo By Abi-Reimold – Thumbnail By Ilyse Kaplan