It is 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night inside the Fillmore, and I am struggling.
Well, our story begins somewhat earlier than that. It begins with yours truly in the Embarcadero, leaving yet another babysitting gig. (You thought music journalism paid all my bills? Joke’s on you, pal. And by you I mean me.)
I’m in danger of being late to the show and I’m also beyond famished. Luckily, the best, fast-as-hell Vietnamese place is right on the way. I run inside, order, and shovel dinner into my mouth like someone simultaneously on the brink of starvation and in pursuit of the championship trophy at a speed eating contest. By the time I arrive at the Fillmore, those recently ingested rice noodles have clumped into a cinder block somewhere near the entrance of my intestines.
This is my private hell, but I’m trying to be cool. I skirt the dancefloor, focusing on not puking while surveying the crowd. I find myself pleasantly surprised at the variety. There’s your usual smattering of indie kids smashed up against the barrier, most of them adhering to the strict dress code of baby bangs, baggy sweaters, and black and white stripes. Several are old enough to be clutching a beer in one hand. Thirty-somethings mill about, exchanging glances from behind their Warby Parkers and taking drags from hash pens. I watch some guy exhale slowly, the vapor curling around his exceedingly well-trimmed mustache. There’s more than a few people here old enough to have raised me, donning ponchos and either embracing their bald spot by exposing it to open air or hiding it by way of newsboy caps.
I am fairly confident at this point that I am teetering on the brink of death-by-pork-kabob and am going to keel over in front of God and Angel Olsen and everyone. She emerges with her band soon enough, slinging her guitar over her shoulder to thunderous applause and launching straight into “Never Be Mine.” “Hi-Five” and “Shut Up, Kiss Me” follow in short succession, packing a rollicking one-two-three punch that sends the crowd into delighted conniptions.
If aloof is the name of the game, Olsen is not interested in playing it. She’s visibly thrilled at the energy and size of the audience, cracking smiles like she just can’t help it. She’s also full of witty little quips tonight, and the sellout crowd is eager to hold onto every last one.
“How you doing?”
She’s answered by deafening cheers.
“That’s good. That’s great considering the state of the world. That’s awesome.”
It is awesome. I can hardly believe I’m enjoying anything given the state of my digestive system, but it’s impossible not to get swept up in the wild enthusiasm of everyone around me. The guy behind me leans over to his date, points to Olsen, and says, “That’s my woman right there. That’s my woman.” It’s low-hanging fruit (if you’re new here, Olsen’s latest album is titled My Woman), but the sentiment rings true.
Onstage, Olsen is irresistible. She resembles one of your older sister’s cool friends: unfazed, unbothered, effortlessly cool, stylish, more than a little snarky but never off-putting or pretentious. At one point, she responds to a heckler with, “Cash me outside,” then admits that that meme is probably a bit past its sell-by date.
“I know it’s, like, two weeks old,” she says with a laugh.
Many of the songs in Olsen’s set are genuinely somber – “Sister” and “Those Were The Days” arrive early and get the crowd swaying gently – but her performance is far from depressing. Chalk it up to her penchant for the right amount of banter at the right time.
“Bless y’all. I smell some weed in the house,” she says after finishing “Fly on Your Wall,” a song she wrote as part of the anti-Trump 100 Days project. She’ll later credit our audience-wide chill to “all the reefer you’re smoking.”
All the same, more than a few crowd members are feeling extra bold tonight. At one point, someone calls out, “Play some dark shit!”
“Oh, I’m about to play some dark shit right now,” Olsen responds without missing a beat. She starts playing “Miranda,” a still-potent cut from 2012’s Half Way Home. Jammed-out renditions of “Never Be Mine” and “Sweet Dreams” follow. Leading the four members of her band with enviable ease, she pulls everything she can out of the crescendo in “Forgiven/Forgotten.” She finishes the set with “Give It Up,” a spiky standout from My Woman, elevated to near perfection at full force and volume.
Having powered through the majority of her uptempo crowd pleasers in the regular set, she spends the encore getting synth-y and serene. She ditches her guitar for the keys to play hypnotic renditions of “Intern” and “Woman,” then drops everything but the mic for a cover of The Motels’ “Total Control.” One quick thank you and good night later, she disappears, leaving her band to jam out while the crowd shows their avid appreciation one last time.
It is 11 p.m. on a Wednesday night inside the Fillmore. I am still struggling, but I am also fairly certain I’ve just seen Olsen on the tour that will mark the beginning of her absolute heyday. It evens out.