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Angel Olsen, Sharon Van Etten and Julien Baker’s “Wild Hearts Tour” Is the Can’t-Miss Indie Gig of the Summer: Review

Check out setlists and photos from the trio's co-headlining run, which kicked off in Virginia on July 21st

Wild Hearts Tour
Julien Baker, Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen, photos by Katherine Flynn for Wolf Trap
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    The heat wave that had been smothering the country all week was still refusing to budge when “The Wild Hearts Tour” kicked off Thursday (July 21st) at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia (get tickets here). A tote bag at the merch stand read, “I went to ‘The Wild Hearts Tour’ and all I got was emotional,” the unofficial mission statement of the triple bill.

    “This is my summer camp,” Angel Olsen told the audience during her nine-song set later in the night. The tour featuring Olsen, Sharon Van Etten, and Julien Baker will continue to cross the country this summer at a COVID-safe series of outdoor venues: three singer-songwriters at the top of their respective games, who are also just three friends who will return to the same tour bus every night, creating a shared experience during what will be the coldest summer of the rest of their lives.

    The sun was setting as Julien Baker took the west-facing stage; had she gone on even a few minutes earlier, it would have shone directly in her eyes. Even under the airy wooden rafters of Wolf Trap’s open-air and seated Filene Center it was tough to find a breeze. Undaunted by the sea of sweaty faces in the audience, Baker purposefully dove right into a full-throated version of a sparsely-instrumented song, the title track to her 2015 album Sprained Ankle.

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    Baker is a consummate and polished professional, even while delivering songs about the chaotic forces of addiction and poor mental health. She was the first artist on the bill — but not the last — to inform the audience that the schedule for her set was tight. Wolf Trap is run by the National Park Service, and it seemed like a stern park ranger or two had put the fear of God in all three of them: Wrap by 11, or else.

    Wild Hearts Tour Kickoff

    Julien Baker, photo by Shannon Flack for Wolf Trap

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    Baker charged through “Bloodshot,” from 2021’s Little Oblivions — her third LP and her first full-band album. She seemed a little harried as she unstrapped her guitar and moved across the stage to take her place behind the keyboard, even as the ambient temperature finally started to drop by maybe one degree. After playing standalone single “Tokyo,” Baker took a measured approach to Little Oblivions tracks “Favor” and “Relative Fiction.”

    “Faith Healer” and “Hardline,” though, were where she left nothing on the table — pushing through crescendos, opening her mouth as wide as it would go. She chased them with the powerful, cacophonous finale of “Ziptie” before waving herself offstage, right on schedule.

    Audience members were still finding their seats throughout Baker’s set, giving it the feel of an opener. Twenty minutes later, when Angel Olsen took the stage in a bright yellow jumpsuit, it was dark enough to feel like primetime. “Dream Thing,” from the newly-released Big Time, eased the audience into an Olsen sound that is more rife with country influences than ever before. With six other people onstage, the cumulative effect was full-bodied and lush; it sounded like summer.

    Olsen seemed like she was getting back on a familiar horse after three years away. “I know it’s hot, but we love you. Our love goes out to you,” she said, greeting the audience after wrapping “Dream Thing.” “It’s a beautiful space, oh my God,” she added of the wooden amphitheater. The jubilant “Big Time” carried the audience further into the world of her newest release as she strummed rhythm guitar, planted behind her mic front-and-center on the stage.

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    Wild Hearts Tour Kickoff

    Angel Olsen, photo by Shannon Flack for Wolf Trap

    “Ghost On,” about Olsen’s first queer relationship during the pandemic, got a beautiful and haunting rendition — “When should I believe the things you say? You change your mind from day to day,” she sang. It’s a song with a sharp edge, but it felt like some of the sting had been removed for Olsen through the process of writing it. The whisper of a breeze wafted through as the closing notes drifted out into the audience.

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