By David Courtright; photos by Matthew Smith
One always wonders how a singer’s artistic personality will translate in a live, or in-person setting. Does melancholic music equal depressive live show? In truth, sometimes it does. In Brooklyn’s Sharon Van Etten’s case, it was quite the opposite.
While her music can easily be called “introspective,” the singer seems far from that persona. She was engaging of the crowd, chatting casually as she tuned her guitar, scolding that obnoxious drunk in the front row who everyone kept shushing. There was an extended conversation about John Travolta. She even took requests.
Her opener was Flock of Dimes, a.k.a. Jenn Wasner (of Wye Oak), who was a contributor on Van Etten’s most recent release, the superb Tramp. Wasner’s vocals have always been impressive, and with the EARL’s excellent attention to detail in mixing, she sounded amazing with her band. (also of note: Flock of Dimes’s must-buy tour tee shirt simply says “F*** Haters” in all caps.)
Van Etten mostly played new songs, though she did delve back into her catalogue as the show went on. “Peace Sign,” a favorite from Epic, was a real crowd pleaser. She was backed by a guitar/bass player, another female vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, and drummer. One would expect her set to be reserved, hushed. On the contrary, it was loud. You could tell she likes it loud. She commands her songs with a measure of clarity and precision, while inhabiting them with grace and poise. She reaches for the high notes and her eyes roll back in her head.
Highlights from the new album were “Serpents,” which seems to crank slowly into a frenzy, like an air-raid siren; “Give Out,” which she introduced as a song about moving to a new city and allowing one’s self to love after “getting the s*** kicked out of you;” and “In Line,” a “Neil Young tribute for my father.”
For an encore, she closed with the song that put her on the map in the first place, the exquisite “Love More,” which she prefaced as “the most personal song I’ve ever written and played for anyone else.” A truly splendid evening with a gorgeously talented musician.
Flock of Dimes:
Sharon Van Etten: