Home / News / Angel Olsen keeps it real and heartfelt during her concert with opener Kara Jackson at Thalia Hall

Angel Olsen keeps it real and heartfelt during her concert with opener Kara Jackson at Thalia Hall


We can say that it was fate that Angel Olsen started the first of her three sold-out night stands at Thalia Hall in just four days. Merriam Webster The word of the year was chosen as “authentic”. At the venue in Pilsen on Friday, the singer-songwriter summed up the essence of the term, which the dictionary defines as, among other meanings, “not false or imitative” and “true to one’s own personality, spirit or character.”

A film without a script or a filter, Olsen could not fit these descriptions better. She used performance to explore the boundaries, roles and emotions associated with romance and often its complex consequences. Olsen, who doesn’t mind song-synchronized visuals and lighting on most big-profile shows, went old school and winged it. 36-year-old St. The St. Louis native played whatever he and his versatile backing band wanted in the moment. He made requests and granted requests, relishing the idea of ​​surprise, making playlists taped to the floor an afterthought.

His good-natured attitude was reflected in his sense of humor and spontaneous banter. Olsen chatted freely with the crowd, sharing details about her life and revealing a big secret. She is engaged to collaborator (and co-instrumentalist) Maxim Ludwig. Olsen was on stage confirming a vague suspicion about his condition.

Ah, the hopes and optimism attached to the upcoming marriage. It’s no wonder the vocalist was beaming throughout the 95-minute concert. At some points, Olsen struggled with laughter mid-song. During the “Right Now” program, she neglected a verse because she was so carried away by joy. He later gleefully warned a fan that they would cause him to lose focus.

Olsen’s avoidable mistakes and lack of polish, extending to her tendencies to go off on tangents while tuning her guitar or interrupting a song with an impromptu observation, certainly fell short of the predictability and perfectionism associated with traditional pop standards. I treated him well. Olsen’s onstage presence and lack of use of audio correction software or backing tracks signaled an intimacy and accessibility not often found in mainstream music. He also compensated for any lingering nerves or awkwardness with an irresistible magnetism: a supple, gorgeous, widescreen voice that penetrated with devastating emotional intensity.

Olsen has been a constant in music circles since emerging from the Chicago scene nearly 15 years ago. This adolescence saw Olsen working part-time as a waitress, flirting with massage therapy school, and recording a lo-fi EP (“Strange Cacti”) before landing a gig as the touring background vocalist of eccentric folk in 2010. artist Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Her first LP and record deal soon followed.

Likewise critical praise, festival slots and a relentless work ethic. Olsen, who currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina, has released five albums and two EPs over the past decade. He came out as gay in 2021 and dealt with the successive deaths of his adoptive parents. (She has since revealed that she identifies as pansexual.) These transformational events fueled her latest work, the country-focused “Big Time” (2022). According to Olsen, channeling pain, grief, and love into shared experiences is an ancient tradition.

Olsen combined the three conditions into multiple songs; these included “Sweet Dreams”, an elegy that saw the singer painfully blend sadness and devotion. His falsetto, slipping into tight crevices and exploring unexpected places, almost broke into song as he emphasized the word “alone” and the phrase “on his own” in separate stanzas. Olsen’s reverb-laden song at the start of the show – too much so – floated away, the final syllables echoing like an unforgettable memory that never dies.

Tricky issues surrounding losses and how such situations arise informed much of the material. Backed by wailing organ accents and clip-click rhythms, “This Is How It Works” reflected a claustrophobic despair. The similarly melancholy anthemic soundtrack of “Endgame” depicted the collapse of a relationship built on false pretenses. Framed by three keyboards that resembled symphonic strings, Olsen’s weary, head-pounding vocals simultaneously evoked defeat and disgust.

Yet the vocalist has regularly overcome this struggle not by shying away from sadness, but by refusing to wallow in self-pity or act like a victim. Probing, challenging, assertive: Olsen challenged and asked tough questions even as her conversations turned inward with fragile intonations and whispered softness (“Ghost On”). For all the uncertainty of infatuation surrounding the painful phrase “Give It Up,” Olsen struggled to take back control of her identity and purpose through many of her outings of heartbreak and disappointment.

Waving his arms, he transformed his voice into a resilient tremor on the challenging “Go Home,” projecting a volume level that could withstand the swell of crackling cymbals and clanging guitars. Olsen gained strength as the epic “Woman” emerged, citing personal sacrifices on the way to meeting feedback head-on with siren-caliber vocals that escalated the drama without overshadowing the honesty. He toned down his anger and opted for a sweeter approach to the insistent “Shut up and kiss me.” For Olsen, this was a rare occasion when physical affection trumped the intimacy associated with heart, soul, and mind.

Kara Jackson opens for Angel Olsen at Thalia Hall in Chicago on Friday.

Opener Kara Jackson enjoyed a different kind of intimacy. Oak Park native and former National Youth Poet Laureate – “Why Does the World Give Us People to Love?” The LP ranks as one of the most acclaimed releases of the year; He performed an exhilarating 30-minute solo set that required silence. The audience, including some of his friends, dutifully obeyed.

Jackson, who mostly sings in a dry, hushed tone, is neutralized by sparse arrangements and bare, raw tones. She did not try to hide any sounds amidst the quiet surroundings. The friction and squeak of acoustic guitar strings during chord changes; the light tapping of his fingers landing on the keyboard and the rubbing of his left hand against his neck; consciously breathing in and out of his lungs. It’s all audible, it’s all part of the minimalist tapestries that evoke the dazed feeling of waking from a dream state late on a Sunday morning.

Although Jackson’s folk songs offered limited variety, his vivid imagery and metaphors threatened to burn holes in the imaginations of those around him. He cracked a funny joke and displayed a confident stance that reflected the maturity of his storytelling. In addition to her winning cover of Karen Dalton’s “Right, Wrong, or Ready,” Jackson impressed with originals that tackled themes of self-worth, anxiety, and expectation with understated candor and delicate sensitivity that bordered on distressing.

Half-jokingly described by the singer as mostly “pessimistic”, the fare is poked and prodded with the sole grandeur reserved for a few over-the-top vocal flights. Let other artists adopt ornate ornamentation; Jackson need not imagine his clearest revelation, which seems to have come through reflection and healing after a forgettable hiatus.

“I’m quite a first-class person,” he repeated, convincing himself of the truth at the end of a sad number condemning sycophants and parasites. “I am useful.”

Bob Gendron is a freelance critic.

Thalia Hall’s track list for December 1:

“The Thing in the Dream”


“Shut up kiss me”

“Give up”

“Sweet dreams”

“Right now”

“Ghost On”

“Go home”

“How does this work”



“Game over”


“Some Things Are Cosmic”

“From the world(expletive)”




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