The Soft Melodies of Angel Olsen and Meg Baird

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Photos by Caroline Edgeton; additional photos by Nicholas Martin

I tend to find that many of my all-time favorite female musicians have a tendency to dislike being on stage. I, personally, have problems with it myself. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I get nervous when strangers see it. I think it’s that vulnerability that draws me to those who experience that annoying, insecure feeling known as stage fright.

Two of my all-time favorite musicians are Fiona Apple and Cat Power, and they are both known for having problems tackling the stage. They’ll still do it, but it’s a bit overwhelming I could imagine. They are both incredibly talented and sing their hearts out, sharing very personal pieces of themselves with audience members. I saw this raw, at times painful aspect in Angel Olsen – a small, soft spoken girl with a heart she’s trying to protect.

Olsen performed last Tuesday, Nov. 13, at Studio 34, a comfy, upstairs yoga studio nestled off of Baltimore Ave. The lights were low and there were pillows all over the floor and plush couches for people to sit on. Above the stage were some string lights as well as little bird and butterfly fixtures. It was the perfect place for a quiet acoustic show.

Opening for Olsen was Philadelphia’s own Meg Baird. Known for her time in Espers, Baird’s high-pitched, melodic voice cannot go unnoticed. She performed some of her solo stuff as well as a few traditional folk songs with her sister. Most of the time, it was just Baird with her guitar. I do have to say I was quite partial to the music she played with her sister, though. The sister played banjo and mandolin and harmonized beautifully with Baird. It was like being in someone’s living room or backyard for a family show.

Baird was a great opener for Olsen because, like Olsen, Baird, too, embodies that human vulnerability with which I empathize.

Neither singer performed poorly by any means, and I’m not suggesting that they were nervous Nellies, either. Their beautiful voices and heartfelt lyrics truly engrossed the entire room. If someone cracked open a beer, you could hear every carbonation bubble fizz and pop. I was having to take photos for the show and I felt like such an asshole because even the soft clicks from the shutter distracted spectators. I can’t say I blame them. I mean, everyone in the room was essentially at a loss for words. Despite the distracting whispers and taps, this silence worked in both singers’ favors. The intimacy of the venue and music worked together in a symbiotic manner.

I can’t speak highly enough of either, but I must admit that Olsen’s voice wholeheartedly captured the audience. Many, understandably, came to see Baird due to her strong Philly presence. Unfortunately, quite a few left after her performance. It was funny, though, because while I was there, I overheard a conversation between two girls, one was leaving and one was trying to figure out what to do next. She said, “I love Meg Baird so much, that was such a great performance. I think I may stay behind for Angel Olsen, I like where this show is going.” Surely enough, she stayed behind and, every now and then, I’d glance over to see her face aglow, completely taken aback by this gorgeous voice coming out of this tiny girl with a guitar.

Her voice reminds me a bit of Nico at times. Operatic and warbly, but distinctive and beautiful. At moments it seemed forced and constricted, perhaps a little out of pitch, but she’d always return with a warm, lovely vocal accompaniment for her guitar strumming. The name Angel is most certainly applicable to its gorgeous quality.

I do have to say that it seemed as though she wasn’t too thrilled with being on stage. I felt bad that she seemed uncomfortable because she was doing such a good job! Before performing her last song she let out a noticeable sigh that appeared to depict how she really felt about being there. I don’t think it really affected any viewer’s appreciation of her show. It did, however, draw people in a bit more closely. It really made her seem genuine. She’s great at what she does and, clearly, she’s making a career out of it, but that doesn’t mean she’s 100% comfortable with everything just yet. She’s still got more roads to pave, but, as of right now, she’s setting herself up on a nice path. And listeners should certainly feel appreciative and thankful for what she’s giving out into the world.

Olsen is currently on tour promoting the release of her self-titled debut album. Her single “Acrobat” was my favorite performance during the evening. It really seems to showcase her range vocally and, seriously, the song is just so captivating. It is a reflective love song that describes all the bits and pieces one can love in another, yet there is this melancholic sense of longing for that person. It’s really quite beautiful and warm, but jerks at your heart a bit. With the way she performs the song, too, you can’t help but reflect on those moments where you experienced immense, unrequited love.

I’d definitely give Olsen or Baird a listen if you’re a fan of delicate, lyrically rich, female vocalists. Better yet, catch them live when you can truly experience the intimacy and sincerity of their music.

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