"I don't know how long I've been on tour," Angel Olsen said during a brief moment of reflection at the 9:30 Club on Thursday night. "It feels like about two years."
While it's actually been closer to 14 months, Olsen's profile has soared in that time. The period has been marked by the release of her third (and best) album, "My Woman," in September 2016 and the mostly fascinating "Phases," a 12-track odds-and-ends collection issued last month.
With Olsen ostensibly touring behind "Phases," Thursday's set — the first of a two-night run at the 9:30 Club — came across as a simultaneous career summation and chapter closing. It was a muscular display of Olsen's command of dynamics, tension, and distinctive blend of rock, soul and country.
Her sparkle-silver '60s sci-fi bodysuit, Beatle boots and Vox amp were an appropriate dollop of retro — another signal that Olsen has grown far beyond her roots as a quirky alt-folk singer.
Vocals are the centerpiece of any Olsen performance, but her band was just as remarkable throughout Thursday's nearly two-hour set. Guitarist Paul Sukeena pulled long, sinewy accents that leapt from a lithe combination of bass, drums and keyboards pulsing sympathetically with every chord change.
"My Woman" and 2014's "Burn Your Fire for No Witness" were the central reservoirs from which the set was drawn: "Shut Up Kiss Me," "Sister," "Lights Out," the remarkable "Those Were the Days" and a song we'll refer to as "UNF" all sounded stronger and more assured than their recorded counterparts.
She didn't so much play those songs as she prowled through them, emphasizing a vocal nuance here, stretching out moment of silence there. At one point she chuckled during an extended pause, seemingly amused at the power of her own songwriting, before the band crashed headfirst into the next chord.
Olsen closes this phase of her career with a show in her current home town of Asheville, N.C., on Saturday night — she has solo dates scheduled across Australia and Europe next spring — dropping the curtain on a period that she called "one hell of a muddy time, politically, emotionally, spiritually," in a recent Instagram post.
It seems natural to assume she'll spend most of 2018 working on new material. Given the confidence she seems flush with, the drumbeat Olsen may hear in the distance is the sound of heightened expectations for a major artist.