on the understated charm of angel olsen and the ritual of concerts

I’m a concert fiend through and through; I was not allowed a ton of liberties as a teen, and yet, weirdly, my parents relented when it came to gigs, probably because my palpable adolescent misery combined with socializing ennui made them feel like I had no outlets (true) and dad driving me to-and-fro a specific location for 120 minutes tops mitigated the danger of my partaking in questionable behaviors (debatable), so I caught the bug in early middle school and never stopped. During my uni days, I indiscriminately bought tickets to shows, happily blowing my shitty job paychecks; from thrash metal to Italo disco and kraut rock to EBM, I was starved for music. So I went and headbanged my brain into temporary amnesia, danced with beautiful strangers and sometimes even cried, when my heart felt bursting at the seams with gratitude for the shared human experience. I never gave much thought to going on my own if nobody felt like tagging along – a tactic that’s served me well, or else I’d never have witnessed what still stands as my favorite performance ever: a deranged, hedonistic, feral Shellac at Athens’ beloved dirty shoebox An on a cool June evening in 2015 that I watched from the back of the club, not moving, not making a sound, beer in my hand and jaw on the floor. By the end of that month, Greece would actively implode: with no agreement reached between the government and the troika and the bailout extension period expired, capital controls were imposed, banks closed, and everything fell into chaos mode. Everything from that era reads like a blur, like a way uncooler, heroin-less Balkan version of Bowie’s Berlin years, with financial and existential woes overlapping and the sinking feeling of being deprived of autonomy in any real capacity, since my life kept being dictated and derailed by unshakable forces.

With the above circumstances keeping me sufficiently occupied and a constantly decreasing cash flow, I was only made aware of Angel Olsen’s live show the night of, a weekday in mid-September. I didn’t entertain the thought of going for a minute; I’d heard Burn Your Fire For No Witness and reckoned her intriguing, but at the time I found myself consumed by postpunk guitars and hip-hop, I’d already attended a wildly disappointing Vietcong show a couple of weeks before, and frankly, I was too exhausted from simply existing to sit with her and really listen. The next day, on my way to work, I got a call from a friend who was there and figured he’d just missed me in the crowd. He told me how everybody fell silent when she performed Unfucktheworld; how she looked nothing like the sultry siren in the promo pictures when she came out in jeans and a t-shirt and bad bangs, and yet she was the most beautiful woman in the room, how there was a lump in his throat once the show was over. We hung up, I felt a twinge of regret in my gut and I tried not to think of her again for a while. I succeeded, until My Woman came out. And then I kept coming back to that one live I skipped out on, for years, again, and again, and again, like a missed connection at a party with someone whose eyes screamed that they’d be good for you, and good to you, and for whatever reason you pulled an Irish exit.

My little FOMO story aside, I’ve consistently loved her work, because in a way, she has unapologetically grown into herself, drawing a distinct line between her and her peers, deviating from the sad girl standard and moving towards darkly funny, painfully honest and disarmingly self-aware output. The three singles from her upcoming album are heavy with dead-end longing, quiet resignation and the sweet, low buzz of a simpler life; Olsen seems to be tapping into that sixties jukebox melancholy, equal parts Motown and country. She loves hard, but not hard enough to stay; I just wish she’d come back. This time, I’ll be there.

I’m one day away from attending my first post-pandemic festival; if I manage to successfully circumvent my old-man circadian rhythm, this time tomorrow I’ll be taking a disco nap before I leave to see I Hate Models and Ben Clock. I don’t know whether I’ll acclimate quickly to that level of bodily proximity with sweaty strangers, or spend a couple of hellish hours fretting over air droplets in my head till I’m adequately drunk, but it’s my first calculated gamble in over two years, so I guess I’m willing to find out. I’m kind of bitter about the festival not taking place at the old Ellinikon airport again, where I danced for a good twelve hours in 2019 and can safely say, no place will ever be more perfect for a rave. Me and V drive by its gutted, torn remains at least twice a week and then I am reminded that it truly was the most liminal of spaces and it did not deserve that kind of graceless final rendition: from airport to rave grounds to vaccination center to ruins, only to be soon replaced by a grotesque combo of hotels, condos and a casino that was definitely not missing from the area – in other words, shortly I’ll be paying a lot more for coffee and might even get another couple letters in the mail from real estate vultures eyeing my home, sweet home.

But if you do see me there, come say hi.

Published
Categorized as Music

4 comments

    1. miraculously, no casualties within our friend group, but it was less than enjoyable. Dunno whose idea it was to have headliners play in closed warehouses in 30+ degree weather (plus objectively bad sound quality), very unhygienic all around. Probably too expensive for the experience. Are any of the big summer festivals making you consider biting the bullet?

Leave a Reply to Travis Cravey Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.