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Northside 2014: Sharon Van Etten

posted by Dan Murphy on June 13, 2014

Sharon Van Etten at Music Hall of Williamsburg via Bowery Presents

Brooklyn, New York -- As part of Brooklyn's Northside Festival, Sharon Van Etten and her backing band stopped at a packed Music Hall of Williamsburg while on tour in support of the excellent Are We There, released back in May. In a recent Village Voice interview, she said of the upcoming tour, "In a way, it's like going to therapy every day. I know when I wrote [the songs] and why I wrote them, but the depth behind each song is something I'm going to be exploring every night." While her stage banter last evening was all fun and games, the music itself reflected this struggle and led to a cathartic relief for audience-members. 

I find it's always nice to see an artist a few weeks after s/he puts out a new release, since you have some time to live with the new tracks yet they still retain a freshness that can fade from older tunes. So, I was pleased her setlist revolved around the new album, as she moved through tracks like the slow-building "Break Me" and the subdued "I Love You But I'm Lost." Van Etten and her female backup singer were particularly on point last night, shifting seamlessly between powerful harmonies and refrained falsetto to showcase a full spectrum of vocal dynamics. 

This made the live show pleasantly different from studio recordings, especially when coupled with certain ethereal tones not found on the records. The band would intro songs with impromptu vocal loops or airy guitar feedback, and the live production was more spacious in certain moments typically more straightforward in the studio. 

When Van Etten addressed the crowd, she appeared at certain times nervous and surprised at the massive audience's attendance, while at other times confident, sarcastic, and entirely endearing. I could have done without her taking a few minutes to humor a drunk crowd-member who was asking to play piano on a song, but that was really the only hiccup I saw in the presentation. 

The highlight of the show was the pre-encore set closer and standout track on Are We There, "Your Love Is Killing Me." It was here Van Etten showed the crowd an incredible vulnerability, emotionally delivering the line, "Try to tell you when I'm sober, how I feel about loving you." She kept up this mindset when returning for the encore, first performing alone on piano the soul-shattering "I Know" before ending with the lively album-closer "Every Time the Sun Comes Up" with her full band. 

It seems that over the course of her musical career, Sharon Van Etten has never backed away from showing fans her personal trials while trying to convince us that even though trouble's out there, the sun still comes up. While she may think of these shows as her own daily therapy sessions, I'd say Van Etten is a better psychiatrist to her audience than she knows. 

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See Also:

11 Shows to Catch at Northside 2014
Northside 2014 Mini Guide: Williamsburg and Greenpoint
Reliving the Early- to Mid-2000s at Governors Ball 2014