Review: Angel Olsen & Joanna Sternberg Get Emotional with Thalia Hall
This past weekend Chicago was treated to a very fun three night affair at Thalia Hall. Angel Olsen is ending off her year with the Forever Winter Tour, which she has touted as her last for a while, and every night aimed to be a little different, a little special. This mini series of shows, dubbed the Angel Olsen Marathon, featured a different opener every night, giving each one their due before Olsen took the stage. Kara Jackson, Natural Information Society and Joanna Sternberg all let their voices on their respective nights, making the sold out Marathon feel all the more emotional. On Sunday, Olsen and Sternberg definitely held up to the promise of their talents with memorable and emotional night of beautiful music.
There's always something special about songwriters that wear their hearts on their sleeves, but there are very few that are as raw and direct as Joanna Sternberg. Nearly everyone of their songs is overflowing with emotion and Sternberg's unique voice elevates them all the more. Before the show even officially started, Sternberg's sincerity was on full display. They tuned their guitar and gently confirmed with the crowd "All rock and rollers do this right? It's very rock and roll. Jk". What follow was "People Are Toys to You", whose opening lines are as devastating as they come: "I'm so glad I met you, you helped me see just how very much I hate me"
The rest of their set maintained that level of raw emotional nerve. "I Got Me" seems to succinctly outline Sternberg's whole musical aura. "Between self-hatred and self-awareness is a very small thin line" they sing, letting the crowd into the self deprecation that is rife in many of their songs. While self deprecation may be at odds with the sincerity of Sternberg's lyrics, its more than resolved as they lament in the same song "Why is it so hard to bе kind and gentle to myself?". They seemingly can't help but be forthright in all their anxieties. Whether its about forlorn love in "I Will Be With You" (a song made with the aura Shane McGowan on their mind), bad relationships one can't help but be in with "Stocklhom Syndrome", or personal demons of "This Is Not Who I Want To Be", Sternberg just has a strong hold on how to convey them as effectively as possible.
It's nearly the end of Sternberg's set before they introduce themselves. It seemed fitting, butting all their energy into their music and forgetting about themselves. Nonetheless, Sternberg delivering two final songs "The Song" and "For You". Both songs allude to relationships, or is it bad habits? That the beauty of Sternberg's universal and full lyricism. While they sped through "For You", the songs sharp edge certainly left a mark.
When it came time for Angel Olsen to wrap up her three night stint at Thalia Hall, it felt like a sigh of relief. Olsen is no stranger to Chicago having called it home for quiet a few years and mentioned trying to see as many friends as she could while in town. Every show of hers I've seen has felt like a homecoming, even this one that was more of a send off to the last half of her tour. The Forever Winter Tour feels like a victory lap, especially as Olsen has said it's the last one for a little while. Her last album Big Time came out last year and has been a staple of her catalog. It deserves one more run where it takes over a big portion of the setlist. But Olsen didn't neglect her tried and true tracks as her entire discography had a chance to shine during the marathon.
"Dream Thing" kicked things off and everyone on stage looked genuinely giddy. Olsen in particular seemed to be so happy to performing for a third night at Thalia Hall. Having seen her at the venue a few years ago and during her Wild Hearts Tour, I was expecting nothing less than a phenomenal show. Olsen and her band delivered as rousing songs like "Shut Up Kiss Me" blasted through Thalia Hall while the gentler moments like sections of "Never Be Mine" really hit the heartstrings before eventually hitting some exalted high points.
Olsen just has a way of capturing an audience, whether it's with her gorgeous songs or playful banter. She joked between sets as the reverb in her mic sounded majestic and all knowing before dipping back into fan favorite tracks. She asked for a requests but as soon as someone yelled for "Sister" she jumped on it, revealing it was what they were going to play next anyway. "High & Wild" off Burn Your Fire for No Witness certainly hit the spot of those early Olsen tracks. During a short solo segment, Olsen pulled out a Strange Cacti track and a cover of "Slowin' Down Love". The whole evening felt like a special gift to her loyal fans, giving them one last night before she steps back and hopefully works on a brand new album that comes out sooner than later. But for now, we'll have the memories of the marathon ringing in our heads.