If you’re anything like me, what you’re used to is being in your home as often as possible, surrounded by as few other living creatures as possible. Why, I spend so much time at home in the presence of barely anyone else, I sometimes forget that there are other things to do! Things that people like doing. I know, it sounds totally boned. But stay with me.
In this series, I’ve already taken a look at what it’s like to spend time in the filthy and damp outdoors. That was okay. Things about it were even pretty great! It isn’t, however, a thing that we city-dwellers often have time to enjoy. It requires planning and transportation and yadda yadda yadda. One thing that city-dwellers do seem to enjoy, though? Going out to stand with a bunch of other city-dwellers to watch somebody do something.
Here’s how that went.
Obtaining Permission to Enter the Venue
In order to attend a concert, you must first obtain a ticket to the concert. There are ways around this, but they typically run from shady to rather undignified. So, in my opinion, the best way to obtain a ticket to a concert is to purchase one. In recent years, this process has gotten both easier and more difficult. One no longer has to physically travel to a box office or ticket vendor in order to purchase a ticket from a flesh-and-blood human being. Mercifully, this process has been supplanted by ordering tickets online.
Ordering tickets online is terrific because you don’t have to have a face-to-face interaction with another person. Advances in ticket-purchasing technology and the whole “show me your phone instead of a paper ticket” system have made life generally easier. These systems are not without their faults, though. Just ask one of the multitude of Tragically Hip fans who were shut out of purchasing tickets to the band’s farewell shows by what seemed to be a cabal of shadowy scalpers. Indeed, when the stakes for a show are high, getting a ticket in this modern world can be a downright difficult situation.
Although the Angel Olsen show did sell out, I did not have a problem purchasing two tickets, as I did so in advance. It was easy and the tickets were not expensive. A good experience overall.
Purchasing tickets online: 7/10
Being asked to turn up the brightness on my phone in order that the door people might scan my tickets, which felt kind of embarrassing and why can’t YOU just turn up your SCANNER or something the customer is always right: 2/10
I’ve been going to shows at Lee’s Palace for roughly seventeen billion years. I think that I saw Chore play there in… 2002? Lee’s Palace is remarkably unchanged in the last fifteen years. It still feels like an appropriately scuzzy place to watch a small-to-medium level of band. I’ve always kind of looked at Lee’s Palace as the asshole-y version of The Horseshoe Tavern. This isn’t a bad thing. I just mean that the staff are generally surlier and it seems like the walls are frowning. You know?
While you wait in line to get into the venue, you can take pictures of the back of people’s heads and also admire Angel Olsen’s giant tour bus. You should take a look at the mural on the outside of the venue, which is ugly and yellow. It’s like the wallpaper from the story “The Yellow Wallpaper” but instead of being an allegory for female oppression, it is an allegory for being a bad artist paid to paint a terrible mural on the outside of a cherished local venue.
You will get ID’d when you enter Lee’s Palace, even if you are balding and tuck your shirt in. This wouldn’t be so bad if the guy didn’t see you and immediately give you a look that says “Yeesh. Yeah, let’s see that ID, eyebags”.
When you attend a performance, you should drink alcohol. This is good for you and it is good for the entertainer. Alcohol provides a buffer that will allow them to make mistakes without you thinking about it too critically. It’s sort of like the way that candlelight hides people’s ugly parts and makes them look more attractive, when really you’re just not seeing them clearly.
Lee’s Palace has a very bad selection of beer. Like everything else in the venue, the beer list has stubbornly refused to change over time. The very best beer that they offer is Coors Banquet, a beverage that merely passable. I would not suggest saying anything to them about it, however, as their bartender is an older gentleman with little patience for nonsense. Purchase your beverage and move on.
The stage setup at Lee’s Palace is spartan. Those balloons? Those were brought to the venue by the band, as one of the members was celebrating a birthday. Balloons do not come with a standard setup at Lee’s Palace. The graduated design of the venue provides decent sight lines, but not great (more on that later). The lighting rig is flashy, but can only be considered as such by virtue of the fact that the lights are capable of literally flashing. This is not impressive. All lights can do this.
The sound at Lee’s Palace ranges from quite good to inexplicably bad. The last three times that I’ve attended shows at Lee’s Palace, there have been issues with bad signal connection, technical delays, or both. I’m not 100% sure of why they haven’t got this locked down. They’ve been doing this awhile and there’s a Long and McQuade right down the street.
These technical hiccups are annoying, but when a band gets into full swing it becomes easy to forget. The mix at this show was generally well-balanced and crisp.
Beer selection: 1/10
Beer service: 8/10 (this may be skewed by fear)
Overall sound quality & execution: 6/10
Nostalgia factor: 9/10
The Opening Act
Opening acts are a tricky proposition. It’s tricky for them, because they’re charged with entertaining a crowd that perhaps hasn’t heard of them and probably didn’t come to see them play. It’s tricky for the audience because most people don’t want to be rude, but it’s hard to be polite and attentive when you’re being bored or annoyed by someone you don’t care about.
The last time I visited Lee’s Palace, it was to see the Old 97s play. I had waited years to catch one of their shows, and they were preceded by a band that I absolutely hated who seemed to play forever. Sometimes, though, you get a pleasant surprise. Rodrigo Amarante was one of those.
A solo set with a dude and an acoustic guitar could have been deadly, especially as Amarante played one somber number after another. His animated delivery and charming persona made it easily palatable, though, and his songs – particularly the numbers performed in Portuguese – seemed to win over the crowd. A half hour of smooth folk and Bossa Nova would begin to make just about any crowd restless, so Rodrigo stopped when stopping needed to happen.
Overall, I was impressed. He’s very amiable and talented. It was a nice surprise.
Opening band grade: 7/10
Opening beard grade: 10/10
I hadn’t really heard of Angel Olsen until quite recently. When her (really quite good) new album, My Woman, came out a few weeks ago, I listened to a few of the singles for a New Music Monday post that I didn’t wind up finishing. The tunes intrigued me enough to pop the new record on my phone and I – tentatively – became a fan. If you had told me a few months ago that one of my favourite songs of the year would be a seven minute folk-rock tune with a psyched-out crescendo buried in it, I probably would had “pffff”‘d in your face. But here we are.
Olsen seems, if the “Shut Up Kiss Me” video is any indication, to be a high-spirited goofball. When taken together with the swooning moodiness of much of her songwriting, what one might expect to be an incongruity is actually rather refreshing. Onstage, Olsen feels free to run her mouth, teasing the venue for their inoperable air conditioning and joking around with her bandmates.
In a live context, one of the qualities of Olsen’s music that I find most questionable – a tendency to “over-act” while she sings – completely melts away. She dispenses with the plaintive whininess found on some of her recorded material and sings with an impressive and consistent force. One of my least favourite songs on My Woman (“Heart Shaped Face”) was rendered far more listenable in this setting.
The live Angel Olsen experience is benefited by a tight and talented group of musicians, all decked out in matching suits for the occasion. Little of the musicianship is overly flashy, opting instead for a sure-footedness that ensures that Angel herself remains the centre of attention. They’re a solid band and they seem to be having fun, which is really an indication of a backing-band performing as they should.
With the exception of a mid-set lull that consisted of two or three particularly sleepy numbers back to back, the performance was charming and entertaining. Olsen, who appears to be on a climb to greater fame and fortune, had the crowd in the palm of her hand.
This was a good time.
Headliner grade: 8/10
Bolo ties grade: 10/10
The “Hell is other people” Factor
Going to see a musical performance can be a really enjoyable experience, but there’s no question that it’s going to involve spending time in the presence of other human beings – sometimes lots of them! If you’re attending a show and you’re the only one there, you’re either very rich and you’ve paid for a private performance, or you’re watching a band that only you like.
Since this wasn’t a Cake concert, this was not the case. There were many, many people at this show.
This meant that it was hot. It also meant that people shoved people around (whether they meant to or not). It also meant that people talked loudly during the most intimate moments, which is irritating and distracting.
My experience of this event was particularly marked by the pair of young lovers who decided to shove themselves in front of my (less than tall) partner and remain there for the duration of the concert. That in and of itself would not have been the end of the world. The issue was that these two were:
a) Young people; and,
b) Freshly in love.
They couldn’t keep their hands off of each other or their faces off of each other, and the fact that their heads were melded together created a nearly impassible wall instead of two heads with a gap in between. I could tell that their love was a fresh one by the way that they talked to each other constantly through the entire set. People who have been together for more than a few months simply do not have that much to say to each other.
The pair of them were clearly in their own world, and I’m sure that they were oblivious to the fact that their actions were impacting the experience of others. This is the kind of starry-eyed love that is promoted by movies and books and – say it ain’t so – the music of one Angel Olsen herself.
I’m afraid that I have to break with the common consensus on this one. When you really think about it, young people in love are the worst. They’re terrible and selfish and should not be looked at as a shining bastion of humanity’s good qualities. Romeo & Juliet? Terrible. Fuck them. Those people from The Notebook? Even worse. Who do they think they are?
Love is all well and good, but come on, guys. Don’t be assholes about it.
Being around other people: 3/10
Hearing mouth sounds over the music at a loud concert: 0/10
Regardless of a few hiccups, going to see a musical performance is often a good time and is worth trying. It makes you feel connected with people in the way that only being in a crowd and facing the same direction can.
I’m not going to review Angel Olsen’s new record, but I enjoy it and recommend listening to it. I also recommend checking out bands and drinking beer, preferably at the same time.
Sometimes it’s fun to do things people like doing.