Every Little Big Show can’t help themselves but get better and better each sold out night, which gives the Mitski, Kadhja Bonet, and Mal Devisa Little Big Show #18 coming up next on April 8 a great head start. What is equally great is the partnership between Starbucks, STG, and KEXP to make these philanthropic benefit shows happen specifically to support a youth not-for-profit, which for this past show was NFFTY whose mission is “to enable, nurture, promote and encourage the next generation of filmmakers to inspire, lead and entertain the world with their stories.” With the all the ongoing legislative bills and advocacy for keeping film in Washington State, this was a sound move to bolster the buoyancy of not only Washington’s film industry, but a medium of storytelling available to the future of Washington’s auteurs. Fortunately, we have Angel Olsen, Chris Cohen, and Sloucher to thank for this round of utilitarian non-profiteering.
Ashville, NC’s Angel Olsen launched her solo career, after touring as a backing singer for Bonnie Price Billy, around the same time Father John Misty launched his solo project, back in 2012, and she has had quite the comparable rise to fame. With good reason, Olsen is a sassy lipstick of dynamite that exploded in the last two years via her ability to concoct eruptive singles like ‘Shut Up Kiss Me” from her 2016 album My Woman, but also darkly stark, sit-with-your-thoughts compositions like ‘White Heat” from her 2014 Burn Your Fire For No Witness. But more on this cheeky chanteuse after some words on the bill’s stellar openers Sloucher and Chris Cohen.
Despite having just released their debut release, Certainty, in July 2016 (withe their release show on Rancho Bravo’s patio), the hometowners in the Seattle supergroup Sloucher have found a nostalgic Kill Rockstars-like groove in the local scene and are making moves. Working as the brainchild of guitarist Jay Clancy (Makeup Monsters, Pale Noise, Hibou, Cayucas), Sloucher eventually garnered drummer Jack Hamrick, guitarist Kyle Musselwhite (The Globes), and bassist Lance Umble (Bod, Telekinesis). Their feel good and get loose set, which included their Elliott Smith-worshipping title track “Certainty”, packed a bright grunge-pop punch to open the show.
LA multi-instrumentalist Chris Cohen may not be a billboard name, but Chris Cohen is definitely a musician’s musician. He’s well versed and meditatively mindful about how he participates and talks about music. He’s one of those hired guns that has, in the background, shaped whole nuances of music inoculating his dexterity via Deerhoof, Cass McCombs, and more recently co-producing the rapidly rising Weyes Blood. Cohen came to us not as The Curtains, one of his former projects, but eponymously as Chris Cohen in support of his 2016 treasure As If Apart, his sophomore LP, which he recorded all the parts himself. Respectfully, since the art rocker has eschewed self-identifying his music in the psychedelia camp it would be a disservice to describe it as such, even though some of its connotations make it tempting to do so. Resourcefully, a different approach to describe his music might be the melodically dry-driven sensitivity of Cass McCombs out on a drive with mathy prog-rock movements of 70s giant Soft Machine and they’re on their way to meet up with Deerhoof’s experimental quirks and Helvetia’s autumnal tone. His thirty-five minute set focused on playing back-to-back songs with little banter, which allowed him and his impeccable band to enamor people with his daydreamy seamlessness.
Angel Olsen. It’s a name rife with alternative capital now as deep-seated as John D. Rockefeller and a voice as heavenly as seraphim channeling the country-crooning vibrato of Roy Orbison and the sultry allure of Elvis. Not long ago I remember seeing her play at Barboza (which she joked about playing while switching guitars) in 2013 and 2014 then Neumos in 2015 and now she towers over Neptune’s sea of jaw-dropped fanatics -most probably, including me – wishing such mountain-moving timbre spewed out of their mouths instead of hot air. Angel Olsen is a musician that definitely found her sound from the beginning, but now in her theater days she’s definitely found her larger stage persona embracing her western country influences and surrounding herself with a gray suit-cladded, bolo tie-wearing backing band of multi-gendered babes.
Despite being sleep deprived from only sleeping five hours and also recording a live KEXP session that same afternoon, Olsen hand delivered an expectations-exceeded escapade filled with horsepowered favorites like “Shut Up Kiss Me” and “Miranda,” sarcastic crowd work riffing, playful stage antics, and slow dance ballads like “Heart Shaped Face” and “Sister” that demonstrated her range of compositional minimalism, romantically fatalist lyricism, and her knee-weakening voice that is a magnificent instrument within itself. Like a lot of her live renditions, the energy of the eight-minute “Sister” gradually whips up into a adrenaline-howling whirlwind and then back into a tranquilized and aired out waltz that almost sounds like a different song, a testament to her songwriting acumen.
Under the moody pink and purple phosphorescence, her belly-hurting banter and charming of the crowd heightened in a very entertaining way throughout the night as she got more enervated and inebriated, which resulted in her giggling phrases like “I think that tequila is working now” after missing a singing cue in “Give It Up.” Of course, the crowd cheered, lionized, and enabled the non-stilted aspect of her down-to-earth rawness of just being a fun musician who might mess up for the sake of a good show and carry on s if nothing happened. “Give It Up” was the last number of her initial set then, as expected, she appeased the audience with an encore starting with atmosphericly droney renditions of “Intern” and “Woman” that symbiotically blended into each other and then tightly wrapped things up with a bow covering The Motel’s 1980 chart topper “Total Control.” Like her first exit, she said “Goodnight” and walked off stage as her band continued to jam on the same progression until they slowly decayed and the lights dimmed.
There aren’t a ton of band I go see on principle, but Angel Olsen is one of them.
Never Be Mine
Heart Shaped Face
Those Were The Days
Not gonna Kill You
Give It Up
Total Control – Motel’s Cover