Angel Olsen at McMenamin’s Crystal Ballroom was my first show in Portland. The wooden floor has an odd amount of bounce and I suddenly have images of mid 20th century youngsters dancing the night away. There are large gilded paintings that surround you dating back to the turn of the century. If the name McMenamins rings a bell, it’s because the company owns a great deal of real estate here in the city of roses.
The beginning of my experience started off oddly: while Oregon may be lax when it comes to marijuana its liquor laws are a tad harsher. At venues like the Crystal ballroom the ages are separated. A literal line runs down the center of the venue separating over and under 21. I’m curious to see as my coverage of this city continues if this affects the vibe of shows.
Once I get my PBR and settle in I notice that there are blue and white balloons tied to various instruments on the stage and I wonder what for? The band comes out in matching grey suits, (except for Olsen) and opens up with “Never Be Mine”, the second track off her latest project. The show is peppered with Olsen’s banter. We’re reminded by our songstress to tip our bartenders and before she rips into “Shut up Kiss Me” (my personal favorite on the new album) we also come to learn that she used to be a cheerleader. Upon getting sick though, she quit and decided she wanted to start a band and be like Gwen Stefani. “I used to be a cheerleader, but then I wanted to be a rock’n’roll girl,” says Olsen.
Her wit continues as she makes jokes about being a self-proclaimed bitch. She tells the crowd “You know why I don’t dance?” “Why?’ the crowd responds. “Because I fucking sing.” I’m actually pretty surprised with how rowdy she is. This is my first time seeing Olsen live and in my mind she was far more demure. We also learned the mystery behind the balloons: it was one of her band mate’s birthdays. The majority of the set was dedicated to her latest effort but it also featured older tracks and she closed out the set with a cover of The Motels’ “Total Control”. Also, she couldn’t miss out on the chance to comment on Portland’s marijuana intake. Olsen gleefully shouted, “It smells like a reefer, I’m so proud of you guys”
Olsen has a haunting voice and her stage presence is captivating. She’s got you hooked with either her musical prowess or humor. She’s definitely evolved as a songwriter and this has allowed her to continually sell out venues. She’s comfortable on stage, which is a good thing, because that’s right where the public wants her.