Kyle Field of Little Wings has carved a cultish niche for himself as one of American alt-folk’s most singular voices. Near the stage front in a slowly-filling SWG3, listening to him croon warmly of a palm frond paradise, it’s easy to imagine you’re in a beach-side shack somewhere in Hawaii rather than a cavernous warehouse venue. But following a quieter song, the sound of restless waves lapping the shore behind us becomes overwhelming. “Angel says she’d like you to all be quiet,” jokes Field. “She just texted me.”
Upgraded to SWG3’s huge Studio room due to demand, tonight’s gig is a hot ticket, drawing a large, diverse crowd. Field’s solid three-piece, playing some of the most languid, laid back acoustic free-associative surfer-folk ruminations of our times, occasionally struggle to rise above the chatter. Luckily for those near the front, it’s not too much of a distraction, and we’re treated to a scrap-book set of songs from across the ages, peppered with Field’s idiosyncratic vocal yelps, pterodactyl moans, and occasional avant-normal dance moves. There are songs from recently reissued classic Light Green Leaves (including the delicately transportative Look At What The Light Did Now), and drummer Zeb Zaitz takes a turn in the spotlight, picking up a guitar for a gloriously catchy AOR bossa from his own new album, Field at times singing along like a wordless fish. Picking up the pace, they finish with a couple of highlights from latest album Explains: the rolling nearly-rap of Fat Chance and a climactic high-speed Where. For those engaged, the set is a treat.
When Olsen takes to the stage, the venue is packed; a boisterous, excited Saturday night crowd, significantly larger than the one she last played to in Glasgow at Mono. Live, the elements of the records stand in starker contrast – her voice actually sounds even more remarkable, and the rawer, rock ‘n’ roll edges to the songs are accentuated. Her five-piece band, resplendent in sharp, matching suits, look like they’ve stepped straight out of a fifties TV special; it fits nicely with the Black Lodge country-noir and girl-group pop influences that shade some of the songs.
Shut Up Kiss Me, the upbeat second single from new album My Woman, is dispatched early on. Olsen jokes that most people can now leave, but of course no-one is going anywhere. Between-song chat is kept minimal throughout, the emphasis clearly on the music, and an attentive audience is more than happy with that script. The seven-minute-plus Sister is a mid-set peak, its long-form structure slowly building to a wrenching climax. Where the recorded version simmers to its conclusion, live it really comes alight. Acrobat is recast in a similar fashion, extending to a dramatically heavy coda. On The Waiting, shafts of bright pop sunlight briefly cut through the gloom, before the song builds into a storm cloud. A guitar line wails over Sweet Dreams that momentarily sounds like something being dragged along a motorway. The sound system in here is loud, and the band (three guitarists, a synth-player, bass and drums) sound even louder. These come across largely as sad songs, touched by resignation, but there is a catharsis and joy in the raging heights the band invariably reaches that nonetheless leaves you feeling there is a happy ending, even if it’s just a letting go.
For the encore Olsen turns to her side to play keyboard, eyes shut, singing towards her band mates. There’s a feeling of captivating intimacy, despite the venue size, the initially downbeat nature of Woman leavened by the intensity of the band’s performance. “We love you!” someone had earlier shouted. “Do you really?” she’d replied with a sly grin. It’s pretty clear that Glasgow does, and tonight it’s not hard to see why.