By Micah McLain
I’ve been in love with Sharon Van Etten’s music ever since I heard about her surprisingly powerful sets at this year’s SXSW. I have no doubt that those lucky enough to be in attendance at 529 on this late Tuesday night now share these same feelings. Although the crowd was relatively sparse, even for such a small venue, most of us understood
the significance of the event as there was no shortage of fans photographing and videotaping her performance. Mastodon’s Brent Hinds even made an appearance before she began, although I never saw him after the first song. Following excellent opening sets by Lindsay Appel and Marissa Nadler, Van Etten and her new band set up on the tiny stage.
The first half of her set focused on tunes from the soon-to-be-released LP epic (with a lowercase “e,” as Van Etten pointed out, as a “joke that no one else will think is funny”) and displayed her new, fuller sound as a result of the added instrumentation. Van Etten and company slowly built up “Don’t Do It” with a lone electric guitar and Cat Martino’s haunting backing vocals before adding a slowly paced bass drum and rhythm guitar as the song continued to increase in volume and intensity before Van Etten let it all fade out with “I wish I could make you right.” The country-influenced “Save Yourself” benefited from the full band treatment with Martino’s keys and the additional guitar support of Van Etten’s soaring vocals. The percussion seemed to overpower Van Etten’s voice at times but she was always able to adjust her volume in order to maintain control.
Van Etten’s between song banter displayed her sense of humor and genuine humility, as she covered topics ranging from the Turducken burger at The Glenwood (“satisfying”) to the nickname of “Hotlanta” (not used by anyone that lives in the city). As the set progressed, Van Etten’s accompanying band slowly left the stage. The rhythm guitarist and drummer were first to go after supporting the artist on the majority of epic’s tracks as Nadler returned to the stage to offer backing vocals for the next few songs. Van Etten’s performance of “Love More,” her most popular and heart-wrenchingly beautiful song, was one of the many highlights of the night. The crowd was silent from the very first organ note of this hymnal for the broken hearted, as Van Etten’s intimate lyrics of love and naivety demanded the attention of anyone within earshot. After Nadler and Martino left Van Etten alone with her guitar, she ended the evening with “Heart In the Ground,” another perfect expression of somehow finding hope through love and loss as she interchanged lyrics of “Can I live without you?” with “I can live without you.” As the last note of Van Etten’s voice faded away, the crowd sat in rapture, hoping that the evening wasn’t coming to an end just yet.
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