Music review: Angel Olsen, Sydney Opera House

The singer-songwriter returns to the Opera House to a standing ovation.

Angel Olsen commands the Concert Hall stage at the Sydney Opera House with a spectacular graduation from lighter indie folk/rock to a swooningly orchestral, historically referential, cowgirl honkytonk spectacular that left the Australian crowd on its feet in ovation, travelling home on an ethereal cloud.

Utilising a sublime back-up quintet of violin, cello, keyboard, bass guitar and a flipping great percussionist, queer-inflected ballads were reincarnated for the 21st century with all the reverence that comes from someone who has studied the Country classics, their roots and beyond. 

People will be talking about Olsen for generations, as they do about Dusty Springfield, except Olsen is able to be open about her queerness, and wear that mix of melancholy and euphoria on her sleeve. Olsen’s lyrics are broody and devoid of cliché; she knows how to hold back, and the power of restraint and suggestion, then come smashing at the heartstrings when you least expect. 

It’s road-trip soundtrack to the maximum, a credit to Sydney WorldPride that it programmed the nuance of LGBTQ+ eroticism in such a powerhouse concert that Olsen framed in a broader Australian tour. If you’re not familiar, look her up immediately.

Olsen offers the nostalgic, dreamy, wobbly-pedal, stained-lens ether of the half-remembered youthful summer of your first crush, and then can shift gear to an on-your-feet kick-drum banger with a mere shrug. While a jostling, musky, beer-drenched carpeted venue may have fit the mood for a crowd that wanted to sway, the grandeur and scale of the Sydney Opera House bestowed the gig with an elevated panache.

Not that it was her Opera House debut, she played a headline in 2016, and supported Bonny ‘Prince’ Billy in 2012, but this performance felt like a consummate maturation.

Mixing up hits from the decade-long discography from ‘Half Way Home’ to ‘Big Time’ and seasoning it with well-chosen covers such as Harry Nilsson’s ‘Without You’ (that she’s previously performed with Sharon Van Etten), there was enough variety to engage an audience that didn’t nod off, however pleasantly, to the classic Nashville Country train beat. 

Read: Performance reviews Escolania de Montserrat and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde, Adelaide Festival

The poeticism of tracks like ‘Unf*cktheworld’ and ‘Nothing’s Free’ contain a lilting rhythm that had everyone almost breathless, like witnessing and partaking in secular gospel. 

Beautiful and unforgettable. A true queer accomplishment that invites everyone into the romanticism.   

Angel Olsen
Sydney Opera House

Angel Olsen performed for one night only on 6 March 2023.

Anna Westbrook is an interdisciplinary queer feminist storyteller, critic, creative producer, poet, and freelance educator, currently working on her second novel and a collection of essays. She has a PhD in writing from the University of New South Wales and is the author of Dark Fires Shall Burn.