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Angel Olsen shows her many brilliant sides at First Avenue

Angel Olsen performs at First Avenue in Minneapolis on Wednesday, November 29, 2023.
Angel Olsen performs at First Avenue in Minneapolis on Wednesday, November 29, 2023. Nikhil Kumaran | MPR

by Julia Schiff and Nikhil Kumaran

November 30, 2023

After touring her most-country album, Big Time, throughout 2022 and 2023, Angel Olsen is closing out the year with the Forever Winter Tour. In keeping with the name, the tour feels like a ceremonial end. Wednesday’s performance at First Avenue was a look back through her musical catalog and felt like a parting gift to her fans. According to Olsen’s Instagram, it’s her “last run of dates for a while,” and she plans to turn inward and plot out her next chapter in music. This performance, with the help of her bandmates, showed us many sides of Olsen.

The show started in an intimate fashion with Olsen’s opener Nona Invie. A familiar face in the Twin Cities music community, Invie (Dark Dark Dark, Anonymous Choir, RONiiA) – or, “Nona Invie For Now” as seen on her merch – is also Olsen’s keyboardist and backup vocalist. Invie’s early presence gave the evening a familial quality. Invie began with quiet grace, sitting alone at the keyboard, she melded stunning vocals with comforting chords and synth-scapes, creating a near-perfect blend of familiarity and intrigue. Each song blended into the next.

Woman sings into a microphone as she plays keyboard
Nona Invie opens for Angel Olsen at First Avenue in Minneapolis on Wednesday, November 29, 2023.
Nikhil Kumaran | MPR

After a few songs, she introduced herself, and said to the audience, “I am not nervous at all,” a gesture of sweet sarcasm the audience loved. She let out a deep sigh on stage, a theme that returned when Olsen took the stage. She asked the audience, “Isn’t it nice to just take a deep breath?”

Olsen’s chemistry with Invie and the rest of her ensemble was apparent. After one of her later songs, she introduced the band, expressing gratitude for the years they had spent together (15!). The sense of community worked in their favor, as they’ve mastered a sound that’s so distinct and powerful it can only come from a place of deep understanding.

Olsen’s recent material oscillates between country-Americana-style and something delicate, bold, and nearly indescribable. On Big Time, she channels a distinctly ’70s feminine country-adjacent bohemian from an unnamed Southern city — perhaps a deeper-voiced Dolly Parton with an ethereal air similar to Florence Welch. With Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla recently out, it’s easy to link Olsen’s bee’s-nest updo and winged eyeliner to something Graceland-ish. Her presentation perfectly compliments the style of her music, if not giving it a clearer frame of reference. 

In Olsen’s new EP, Forever Means, as well as some of her older music, she brings in a soft but powerful sound and unmatched emotional vulnerability that at times is nearly all-consuming. It’s the moments when she’s alone on the microphone, oscillating between a soft and studious quiet into something impressively boisterous that Olsen shows the layers of her artistry. 

She was cheeky, sarcastic and playful, reminiscent of a snarky older sister, or the cool older neighbor you had as a child. She said things like “life is a raw rip” and ad-libbed with fans about where to go after the show (Vegas Lounge was a popular suggestion). She called the Minnesotan audience “cold-ass f**kers” then quickly asked anyone covering the concert to strike it from the record. Her playful side came out between songs; she never let things get too serious.

This playfulness hit its height when she teased something “new” and potentially under-practiced. After asking the band if they were good to play it, they launched into one of her most famous songs, “Shut Up Kiss Me.” This has become part of Olsen’s schtick, a mini tradition in her repertoire. The audience went crazy for it. 

A band performs under cool lighting
Angel Olsen performs at First Avenue in Minneapolis on Wednesday, November 29, 2023.
Nikhil Kumaran | MPR

After she had time to get comfortable on stage, the band left her to do a few songs solo. In contrast to the jammy, intense builds the band brought, her solo set gave her own guitar playing, as well as some of her organ features, a chance to shine. Olsen switched guitars between most songs, with the help of friend-of-the band Maxim Ludwig. Her impressive vocal range filled the stage in these more-personal moments. 

Throughout the set, she took picks from her 2016 record My Woman, 2019’s All Mirrors, and even her 2011 EP Strange Cacti, with the song “Some Things Cosmic,” at the request of someone at the barricade. The song was a pinnacle moment of the evening. The sincerity and skill of her vocals came through so clearly. It felt like an intimate moment between herself and the music. The song bears a slight resemblance to Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” in sound but also in existential sorrow. As Olsen made her way through it, you could practically see her halo. She lives up to her name.

At one point, she addressed the serious nature of music, saying, “I feel relief that people connect with it, I feel less alone.” She thanked the audience for sticking with her and for connecting to her music.

She ended her set with a cover of folk artist Tucker Zimmerman’s “Slowin’ Down Love.” Her choice was a window into the rambling, folksy country music she appreciates. As the night came to a close, the audience filtered off of the First Ave floor in a post-show haze. Throughout the night, Olsen’s presence had felt like an ethereal gift: time-transcending music and a sharp, engaging stage presence. She’s a bit enigmatic and it’s somewhat apparent she likes it that way.