Saturday, February 18, 2012

review- sharon van etten at lincoln hall 2.17.12

Tempting fate for the first time since 2009 I bought a ticket for Sharon Van Etten's second night at Lincoln Hall knowing that what awaited me on the heels of a two night stint of late shows was a heaping helping of sleep deprivation at work in the morning, which I am increasingly unable to cope with as I get older. Veronica Falls at the Empty Bottle worked out fairly well despite a few set-backs, but when I arrived at Lincoln Hall last night the knowledge that the show was sold out was weighing a bit heavily on me. To me 'sold out' means a night spent packed into an overstuffed room with a bunch of strangers rubbing up against me all night and it takes a lot to get me past my crankiness when this occurs. I've found that most shows at Lincoln Hall are able to accomplish this obstacle fairly easily to the point that I often wish that every show I saw took place there.

My copy of 'Tramp' finally arrived in the mail from insound almost a week after the release date. I'm probably not doing another one of those pre-order deals again if that's how they work- better to just walk into one of my local record stores on the release date and buy it there without shipping costs. I could've had another week with this wonderful record, which has been playing pretty much non-stop since I got it. That it is Van Etten's most varied album seems beyond doubt and the fact that it's loaded with amazing songs isn't much of a surprise either. 'Serpents' (which was the first song most people heard from the record) was already clearly unlike anything else she'd done before and the rest of the record follows in similar suit. This serves as a nice jumping-off point for her live show, which showcased the growth of her songwriting as well as the growth of her live band as a more flexible bunch than most in the singer-songwriter world. During the course of the night everyone but the drummer juggled several different instruments throughout- the bassist also played some fantastic lead guitar (including some nice bowed guitar for the arresting set opener 'Joke or a Lie') and harmonium and harmony singer Heather Woods Broderick also played some guitar, bass and keyboards WHILE cranking out those amazing close harmonies. The end result made for some really sweeping slow burners as well as the panoramic bigness of 'Warsaw' and 'Serpents' (which both sounded fantastic live). Usually when I'm at a show alone I will text a play-by-play to my wife at home, but I got so swept up in the music that I never remembered to do it worried that I might miss something.

The majority of the material was drawn from 'Tramp'- the only omission from the new album that I was bummed about was 'In Line' which is probably my favourite track from it. There were a few impromptu moments as well- she played 'Have You Seen' off of the stark 'Because I Was In Love' LP based, we were told, on a posting on twitter requesting the song. It featured an off-the-cuff full band arrangement that was incredibly lovely and obviously not planned. During another lengthy tuning break someone yelled out for 'One Day' and Van Etten managed to talk herself into it right in front of us.

Since there was so much goofy stage banter there was also a lot of dialogue with the audience- Van Etten drew everyone's attention to a couple in the front row who were embracing during 'Serpents' thanking them for making her show their date night. She even went so far as saying 'Chicago is so cute!' which caused everyone in the room a bit of pause. Cute is one thing Chicagoans are not used to being called. It was a moment that was about as indicative of what makes Van Etten and her music so great- there's an unforced and unashamed vulnerability and lack of pretension at play. She wasn't afraid to say it in a room full of people just like she isn't afraid to sing her songs with their similarly vulnerable and unadorned lyrics. Truths are revealed that most would be uncomfortable sharing with much of anyone, much less people they don't know. Her particular way of sharing becomes something that one can't help but embrace because there's an underlying honesty and shared truth there that one can't deny exists in themselves. 'We all make mistakes. I do all I can,' she belted during the main set ending 'All I Can.' The fact that anyone could proclaim this does little to diminish the fact that no one has with such raw and clear emotion before. This was a night filled with moments of similar clarity. 'Don't Do It' was one of those rare moments where I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end during the entire song. I was wondering what she would actually end with once she came out for the encore. She stepped behind the harmonium for 'Love More' and then invited Shearwater onstage for a cover of Tom Petty's 'Stop Dragging My Heart Around' and it was quite a fun and unexpected end to the night. Ending your set with a Tom Petty cover with such joyful abandon is something the cool kids would be far too scared to do because it would take some serious guts and we all know that the cool kids have far too much riding on a stunt like that. Sharon Van Etten, however, apparently does this every night. This is why you willingly go to a packed room full of strangers and not get annoyed when they keep bumping into you while they're pushing past you towards the bar- the shared experience is so worth it.

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