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Angel Olsen’s humor and heart shine at the Crystal Ballroom

This article was written by Emerald contributor Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

In high school, North Carolina-based musician Angel Olsen was a cheerleader. Then she realized she wanted to be in a rock band, like Gwen Stefani.

“And so this is what I’m doing right now, like Gwen Stefani. That wasn’t a joke. That’s just me being honest,” she told the laughing crowd at her sold-out show at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom on Feb. 17. Indie rock mainstay Chris Cohen opened the concert.

Despite her humor, there’s truth in the fact that Olsen doesn’t fit the rock star model. Her early work had an earnest and youthful quality that sounded more like it was written, and recorded, in a high school bedroom than in a music studio. But with the release of last year’s “My Woman,” Olsen catapulted into the realm of rock stardom, embracing a more confident, fuller sound. Despite her growth as an artist, Olsen’s music, and her stage performance for that matter, are still shamelessly heartfelt with a touch of the offbeat, cheeky energy that she will hopefully never lose.

Angel Olsen and her band opened the show with the retro-sounding “Never Be Mine” from 2016’s “My Woman.” With a poppy backing beat, she lamented, “Hate to have to watch you go. Thought I’d been through this. Lord knows, I’ve been trying, I’m still trying.” (Hannah Steinkopf-Frank/Emerald)

Olsen performed tracks from throughout her discography, though newer ones including the aggressively romantic “Shut Up Kiss Me” had more of the audience singing along. (Hannah Steinkopf-Frank/Emerald)

Between songs, Olsen joked about how she smelled weed, that she felt “spicy” in her corduroy bellbottoms and how lyric websites get her songs wrong. “ is bullshit,” she said. “People be making shit up all the time, and then I can’t remember if it’s right or wrong.” (Hannah Steinkopf-Frank/Emerald)

Olsen duels with bassist Emily Elhaj during a solo. Her five-piece backing band, who all wore suits, brought the lush production of “My Woman” to life and gave a new energy to Olsen’s older work. (Hannah Steinkopf-Frank/Emerald)

She often performed with her ’79 Gibson S-1. In 2014, she told The Current that that she got the guitar because its “grittiness” “gives me options because we play both really quiet, dirty sounds and then really soft, kind of jangly, reverb-y sounds. It’s a nice change.” (Hannah Steinkopf-Frank/Emerald)

For the encore, Olsen switched to keys and here, holds her hand up to her ear to find the right harmony note for “My Woman” standout track “Intern.” (Hannah Steinkopf-Frank/Emerald)

Olsen ended with a cover of The Motels’ “Total Control,” leaving her instruments behind for one of the few times during her set to sing directly to the audience. (Hannah Steinkopf-Frank/Emerald)

Opener Chris Cohen has written for and played in bands ranging from Deerhoof to Ariel Pink to Natural Dreamers. Now performing on his own, he’s developed a smooth rock sound that, despite its unassuming vibe, is not lacking in technical prowess. (Hannah Steinkopf-Frank/Emerald)

Cohen took a break from performing to talk about that week’s “Day Without Immigrants” and how the band hesitated on whether it would perform or not. Cohen decided to because “it seemed weird not to play music because people want to hear music.” (Hannah Steinkopf-Frank/Emerald)

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