Published by JB on July 17, 2014
What happened at the end of the night: A stellar (and remarkably jovial) Sarah Van Etten concert was taking place, and then unbeknownst to everyone a Justin Vernon sighting broke out for the encore. Just when you think things couldn’t get much better, a shocked crowd made way for the warmly accepted Mr. Boniver. Ten minutes of the finest impromptu indie music you could ever hope to find at the end of a thrilling night.
There would have been a day a few years ago (let’s say 2011) when the idea of Justin Vernon showing up to encore with Sharon Van Etten at one of her shows would have been an incredible boon for the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter. Fast forward to the summer of 2014 and Ms. Van Etten has thrust herself inches away from the same pedestal that Bon Iver and Justin Vernon find themselves. Toe-to-toe and eye-to-eye they now stand; indie stalwarts at the top of their game.
But let’s not overblow this 10-minute drop by via Vernon on this rocking Wednesday night. Van Etten is one verb away from being a card-carrying member of the singer-songwriter royalty of our generation. Four albums deep and gaining new critical and commercial steam with each release, Van Etten provides the perfect midweek tonic at First Avenue; sandwiched between the psychedelic frenzy from both the Flaming Lips (the night prior) and Tune-Yards (the night after).
Van Etten is showing zero signs of the ill-fated relationship-bearing past that her online bios are flooded with. While her albums are mostly stoic and dramatically introspective, her live show bursts apart these days with jovial laughter, joking and smiling. She’s no longer looking back but instead driving forward, gliding into the prime of her life and making her future releases some of the most heavily anticipated.
Onstage, Van Etten alternates between her guitars and keyboard, gliding along in front of a band that lies largely invisible until they’re announced near the end of the show. Fashionably styled in an elegant dress and with a cute short haircut she reminds the audience (or maybe just me) of a mid-90’s Natalie Merchant; matching both elegance, class and talent with a magnetic smile to match. If Merchant had a daughter in rock, Van Etten would be that girl.
Her live renditions stay mostly loyal to their studio counterparts. In an invigorating live setting such as Minneapolis’s epic First Avenue, a mixture of by-the-numbers renditions and spontaneous improvisation typically is the proper roll of the dice. As Etten continues to expand her catalog and musical arsenal, a live show that is already great can only get better as she gets more comfortable relaying these private songs for public consumption.
Review: Sharon Van Etten – Are We There