PHOTOS & REVIEW: Angel Olsen and Vagabon at Franklin Music Hall

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PHOTOS & WRITTEN BY: Blake Nutis

Philly was in for a Halloween special of sorts Thursday night at Franklin Music Hall. The bill  comprised of New York-based singer-songwriter Vagabon and beloved vocal powerhouse Angel Olsen. Attendees, clad in costumes ranging from skeletons and spiders to Ari Aster’s Midsommar May Queen, flocked to the Callowhill venue, seeking shelter from gloomy humidity and the imminent threat of rain. 

Cameroon-born Laetitia Tamko emerged as Vagabon, the indie-rocker serving as the perfect opener for Olsen. Her setlist offered an interesting dichotomy: grungy distortion reminiscent of the echoes from a D.I.Y. basement show intertwined with sleek, electronic beats that could easily earn their place on a James Blake track. Tamko’s strong vocals and catchy lo-fi beats kept heads bobbing and hips swaying. The only time people looked at their phones was to raise their cameras and record, for either personal keeping or social media-sharing.

And then appeared Olsen, through the thick cloud of stage smoke, with plastic, blue cat ears nestled in her up-do and whiskers dotted on her cheeks with eyeliner. Her five additional bandmates were dressed in mono-chromatic black, adding to the spooky environment and remaining on-theme with the recent release of Olsen’s fifth album, All Mirrors, which came out in early October. The singer-songwriter kicked off her performance with a punch, the first portion of her set a shuffled tracklist from the new record that left the audience in an ethereal trance. The crowd rose with the crescendo of “Summer” and made a heavenly descent during the heartbreaking verses of “Tonight.” 

The St. Louis native told the New York Times earlier this year she hoped the release of All Mirrors would leave her fans swooning, as opposed to crying. Her earlier work has been popularized in certain indie-rock and folk circles as “albums to cry on” in the face of loss, break-ups or general bouts of human sadness. Earlier songs from Olsen’s catalogue, like “Unf*cktheworld” and “Special,” which made it onto the evening’s setlist, are the perfect mix of melancholia and quiet guitar strumming for a rainy day. Yet, All Mirrors steps away from the bare-boned nature of her previous work, with grand orchestral gestures, Depression Cherry-esque synths, and booming drums elevating her vocal talent to the next level, not merely accompanying it. With the raw emotion in her lyrics and powerful, complex twists in her musical arrangements, listeners have no choice but to swoon. 

The Halloween crowd’s reaction to hearing the tracks live effectively demonstrate this emotional transition. While they sang along to the 60’s-pop-reminiscent “Shut Up Kiss Me,” the audience stood in completely silent awe as Olsen crooned the lyrics of “Endgame.” She shut her eyes, pouring her heart into her microphone and leaving the 1,500 attendees in a state transcendent of time. Her songs seemed to float together in a stunning mirage, light and energy rebounding off crystals suspended from the stage onto the painted faces of the costumed audience.

Olsen took note of the crowd’s energy, carrying on in care-free, organic banter throughout the show. She wished a “very happy birthday, sweet baby girl” to Dakota, a fan in the audience whose special day fell on the infamous All Hallow’s Eve. After a round of “oohs” and “aahs,” Olsen asked if she could take the crowd with her on tour. Loud shouts of confirmation followed. 

When the final measures of “True Blue,” came to their end, Olsen wished the crowd a happy Halloween, before, one by one, her band exited the stage- first keyboards, then bass, and finally guitar and drums, stripping the song to its skeleton before the evening’s end. Pumpkin-stamped balloons continued their dance through the peacefully content mob of concert-goers making their way to the merch stand. Vampires, ghosts, and regular Fishtown hipsters alike rushed home in the pouring rain, still swooning. 

Setlist:

  1. New Love Cassette
  2. All Mirrors
  3. Spring
  4. Lark
  5. Summer
  6. Tonight
  7. Special
  8. Sweet Dreams
  9. Shut Up Kiss Me
  10. Windows
  11. Endgame 
  12. Unf*cktheworld
  13. Some Things Cosmic

Encore:

  1. Chance
  2. True Blue feat. Angel Olsen (Cover)

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