Angel Olsen, and the Downside of Making Something People Love

I went to see Angel Olsen recently. She and her band were really good. There was real showmanship to the performance. I don’t want to spoil her setup, although the idea of a concert spoiler alert may be a weird thing I just made up. I dug the show, though. This is despite the fact her opener, Vagabon, a musician I like quite a bit too, got upset about people milling around the bar and talking and stormed off the stage. It should be said that the bar was about, oh 150-200 feet from the stage, and I couldn’t hear anything from them. Nevertheless, Angel was great, and the show was fun. It was worth going out in the terrible winter weather to see.

Olsen mostly played songs from her new album All Mirrors. She may have even played them all. I liked, but didn’t love, that album, but it works live. The songs that are basically just old-timey torch songs have more heft to them when she’s singing them live. There was not much of anything from her great previous album My Woman. She did, though, play its most-popular song, “Shut Up, Kiss Me.” This is why I am writing the words you are reading right now.

I love “Shut Up, Kiss Me.” I think it’s an amazing song. The crowd got hyped for it. They were more excited for that song than anything else she played. I think Olsen noticed this. If I had to guess, that’s probably been a regular occurrence for her on the show. I also feel like, and I am fully acknowledging up front I am playing armchair psychologist to a total stranger, she may not be super happy about that.

During the show, Olsen made some self-deprecating jokes about “Shut Up, Kiss Me” and people’s love for it. She talked, in what sounded like a lament, about how when she’s old she’s still going to be up on stage playing “Shut Up, Kiss Me.” Then she declared, with a shrug, that it’s better than having to work in a grocery store for a living (I don’t recall the exact menial job she mentioned, but you get the gist of it). Olsen was joking, but it seemed like one of those jokes with a kernel of truth in it.

To that, I say I totally get it. That goes double in this circumstance. Olsen is touring to support her new album. It has a decidedly different sound than My Woman, and I believe that is with intention. Then she goes on tour and hears people clamoring for a song from a different album than the one she is touring for. She can tell people are waiting for it. She hears the catharsis when she plays it. She notices the excitement never gets to that level again.

Olsen is not the first, nor is she the last, artist who has to deal with this. It’s the nature of the beast, I imagine, and I am sure it’s frustrating. When people would come to Andy Kaufman’s performances and they’d try and get him to say his catchphrases from Taxi he’d shut down. On the one hand, it’s probably nice to know you’ve created one thing people truly love. On the other, you probably wish they would love a lot of your stuff, or at least could subsume that love for your previous creation to focus on your new one.

Angel Olsen has written many good songs, but people will always be longing to hear “Shut Up, Kiss Me.” I hope she has, or can, make peace with that. I hope every artist in a similar position can do the same. It’s a weird tightrope to walk. Did I crack a smile when I realized she was playing “Shut Up, Kiss Me?” Yes, I did. Was it the highlight of the show to that point? I have to admit, for me it was. However, I did enjoy the show before it, and after it. I wasn’t there to just hear one song, and I hope that’s not how it feels to an artist like Olsen up there. That would be a tough burden to carry.

Although, I will say I wish she had played her cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher Than the Rest” in her encore. I really love that song.

About Chris Morgan

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