Sharon Van Etten Concert Review
7/17/14 @ The Terrace
It was about 7:45 when I made it out to the Terrace from a class in Helen C. White. Even hours before the show started, those paisley metal chairs were commodities more valued than New York City taxi medallions. Gnats were circling over people in the darkening hues of summer twilight. Best of all, the young families and Madisonians unfamiliar with Sharon Van Etten, the latest in a long line of New Jersey musical imports, were taking their exits.
Before the show, Sharon, wearing a white shirt and jean jacket, sat with her bandmates on the edge of the stage talking, laughing, and smoking. It had been a long tour in support of her latest and fourth full-length album, Are We There, and they were just happy to be able to enjoy the open air. I was certainly enjoying the atmosphere and splaying burnt cornhusk across my decomposition book. Some wonderful WSUM staffers and friends joined me for what was to be a great show. (The show, right, that’s what you came to read about!)
The evening’s festivities started with Jana Hunter. She played songs from her upcoming release with Lower Dens and it all sounded pretty great. Her voice hovered over her track beds and reminded me of Beach House with more 80s echo snare (in vein of Songs from the Big Chair or No Jacket Required). It was a great set of 4AD-esque tunes that ended with a Hall & Oates cover (“Maneater”), which is always a plus.
Now before Sharon started, one of the staffers at the table unfamiliar with her music asked what makes her stand out so much. I immediately thought back to my class lecture from hours earlier. We had talked about honest sentimentality in writing, which I think is Sharon’s strongest trait. Her songs show an emotional vulnerability that’s nothing short of captivating and admirable.
Her set was filled with demonstrative moments, but also a lot of liveliness. One of the only older songs she performed, “Save Yourself” from 2010’s Epic, was a stand out example of this. She performed the song with tumbling, western grit and a playful demeanor. She balanced her set between songs that meandered (“I Know”) and ones that trudged relentlessly forward (“Serpents”). You wouldn’t have even known she was smoking prior to show time, her clear alto keeping its sheen through Union speakers. A highlight of the show was her acknowledging her band in singsong fashion comparable to the introductions in D.A.R.E. presentations. She ended her set with “Your Love Is Killing Me,” the emotional centerpiece of the new record, followed by an encore of “Trouble,” showing her signature musical mix of rawness and happiness.
Like in the closing moments of Are We There, where Sharon repeats “Every time the sun comes up / I’m in trouble,” the bass player confirmed with a cool “yes she is” as the applause came in from Terrace-goers. It culminated her powerful and enticing performance with candor that is, without a doubt, the draw for so many of her fans.
Additional Odds & Sods:
– I could tell the show was about to start when I could look into the crowd and see twirled mustaches, ironic t-shirts, and Mac DeMarco hats galore!
– SO to the girl who starting the dancing during Jana’s performance. #Trendsetter #NoButReallySheWasAGreatDancer
– Props to WUD Music for putting a stellar show together.
– Thanks to Sharon for being kind enough after the show to take photos and sign autographs with her line of fans. She also set up her own equipment. She’s untouchable.
– Many more thanks to Tori Rogers for taking all of the photos that accompany this review.
– TA & song-inspirer Julia Meuse commented that, “it was great to see her end the tour with such a receptive audience.” WSUM’s own Maia Gumnit stated of the show, “it was inspiriting and I love her.” I agree with both of these sentiments.