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Sharon Van Etten may be touring with a band now but the way she opened the set felt just like old times. Singing on her own and playing her guitar, she played one of her very best tracks, “Consolation Prize” from her first album (2009’s) Because I Was In Love in a way that was vital and flawless.
Of course, she’s only growing as a songwriter, adding on layers of other instruments and creating a full rich sound, which requires a backing band to render the likeness of the recorded songs in a live setting. Shortly after playing a couple of tracks on her own, the bassist and drummer emerged onto the stage as well as Laurel Sprengelmeyer of Little Scream who played harmonium and sang backup on a few songs.
Mainly, throughout her 75 minute long set, Van Etten concentrated on her newer Epic songs. “Peace Signs” was an early highlight of the set. “Save Yourself” was another clear winning live track. “One Day” proved so disarming it nearly had some fans in tears. The main set finished on a fantastic track, “Love More,” which completed the realization that Van Etten has the ability to capture new devotees at each show.
Van Etten also played three new songs which held up to her previous material very well. In fact, it easily made some audience members long to hear another release from her as it’s clear she’s continuing to grow as a mature songwriter, refining and defining her talent in a way that makes her as unique as she is accomplished.
Van Etten also chose to do a couple of covers in her set that made her seem even more lovable. It was wonderful to hear her cover Blaze Foley’s “Ooh Love” again and delightfully quirky to hear her play the Fine Young Cannibals track “She Drives Me Crazy” with all of Little Scream. Suffice it to say, it was significantly reworked and almost unrecognizable except at the sections of the song where the chorus came in. It was a great improvement over the original track and redeemed it in a way that those who weren’t there might think was impossible.
Van Etten had some modest stage banter and thank-yous to all family members and old college friends who had come out to see her but she also said something interesting about “Tornado,” a track from her first album. Van Etten revealed that she may want to forget about it but she couldn’t leave the song behind and so she reworked it with the full band. It made the track feel less vulnerable but it still worked in the way that Van Etten can help her own tracks adapt in this fickle indie world. At the same time, it should be said that all of the tracks on her first album will always be memorable and hold a special place for those who have been listening to her no matter where she travels in her career from here. Van Etten has and always will be exceptional.
Let’s be clear on one thing: Sharon Van Etten doesn’t exactly need a backing band. The backing band accomplished what they needed to and perhaps made the live show more lively and what the songs on the second album Epic call for. However, Van Etten has the ability to carry a show on her own and has demonstrated this many times. It might be a little bare instrumentation-wise in comparison but it’s this sense of vulnerability that makes the songs work well. She’s honest to the point where it makes your whole body shake to hear her. Somehow, her voice is so effective it makes every hair on your body stand on edge, and yet, simultaneously it’s so comforting it feels exactly like a home or it’s conceptual equivalent.
Somehow, Van Etten transcends mere folk and demonstrates a keen insight into relationships and humanity and it’s precisely us who is very lucky to have her as part of humanity. Once you hear her voice and her words, you will feel changed and transformed, perhaps even a little more human. We won’t leave her now. We’ll love her back.