Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten played at The State Room in Salt Lake City last night, Saturday, April 2.  I was more excited for this show than I've been for a live performance in a very long time.  Van Etten is a young woman who writes her own songs and performs them with her strength and vulnerability on full display.  Her voice is beautiful in a way that evokes the full gamut of emotions she writes and sings about, her range remarkable for the effortlessness with which she sings.  I learned of her music several months back.  There'd been a bit of a buzz over her first record, 'Because I Was in Love,' released in 2009.  It is a hauntingly beautiful record with spare arrangements, deeply personal lyrics and a voice more perfect for its material than my words could possibly convey.  Suffice it to say I cannot imagine coming away from Van Etten's music without being deeply moved.  When 'epic,' her second record, was released last year, the buzz grew to a roar over this supremely talented artist.  The songs on 'epic' are a bit more upbeat with more complex arrangements, but Van Etten's voice and her lyrics deliver everything and more that her growing band of followers could have hoped for.  So yeah, I was finding it hard to contain my excitement over the prospect of watching her perform. 

Two bands played before Sharon Van Etten:  Parlor Hawk and Little Scream.  Some good music, but I'm sorry to say I was mostly impatient waiting for the main act.  Van Etten's set was excellent.  Not surprisingly, she played quite a few songs from 'epic,' but she also played a few new songs and some from her debut.  There's no way I could ever think she played long enough, but she played just about everything I wanted to hear and was kind enough to offer an encore, without her band.  Oh, I didn't mention her band?  Guitarist and drummer.  Sorry, I don't have their names, but once again, I wasn't there to hear them play.  Sharon strummed an electric guitar throughout, except for "Love More," for which she played the harmonium.  The venue was great and the sound good overall, but Van Etten's guitar was too loud and her voice not quite loud enough, which was a shame because it really is all about her voice.  I wish she would have played at least a few numbers with an acoustic guitar.  Funniest moment of the night:  Sharon was telling a story of sorts, building up to a song.  Someone from the crowd yelled out "play the song!"  It was kind of a high-pitched voice.  Sharon said:  "Who said that?  No, really.  I think I just got called out by a 10-year-old."  It was a good-natured, quick-witted response because I'm sure I wasn't the only one who was thinking 'holy shit, she's right, that DID sound like a 10-year-old!'  Most endearing: There's a moment following each of her songs when it's evident in Van Etten's eyes that she's still uncertain about her effect on her audience.  It's a mix of vulnerability and doubt that quickly gives way to acceptance and gratitude.  Two things are clear:  she cares, and she's not taking anything for granted.  For me, these moments best revealed Van Etten's connection to the crowd and were among the most intimate of the night.  I'd like to think I captured at least one of these in the photos below.  

Listening to Sharon Van Etten's records over and over, and knowing just a bit about her personal life from what has been published online, I'd come to think of her as a wounded bird.  Well, she's flying now, on the wings of a voice with the magic to carry many a heart and soul with it. 

Some photos from the show (you'll have to click on each one for larger versions): 


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