Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Live: Sharon van Etten

When: 1/25
Where: Brooklyn Women's Shelter Benefit @ Vanishing Point

First off, let me say that this show was a benefit for the Brooklyn Women's Shelter, collecting money, clothing, food and books for homeless women. I can't find much information online, so if anyone wants to send me information about how to donate, I'll post that here. In the meantime, I did find this page for volunteers, so please consider giving some of your time.

Now, on to the music! As regular readers might guess, I'm not into singer-songwriters at all. I find the genre to be very limiting for musicians, with every available creative alley explored a thousand times over. I catch plenty of fair-to-middling singer-songwriters as opening acts or such but it's a very rare occurrence that I would actually seek one out.

But I sought out a chance to hear Sharon van Etten, because I've heard her name so many times, in so many contexts. She contributing vocals to the forthcoming Antlers album (March 3, 2009), which, as I've already hinted, is one of the best and most important records since the 90's. She's played with a number of my friends and a number of bands I love, but I'd never seen her before and I figured it was finally time.

Photo by Michael Palmieri (from MySpace.com)
Sharon van Etten

And I can see why so many people lover her. Yes, she's still a singer-songwriter and isn't at the cutting edge of anything. But she's got an outstanding voice - rich and confident but a faint rough edge that conveys the sincerity of her lyrics. She delivers her lines with passion and simplicity, and unlike many young singers (including some who shared the stage with her Sunday), she never adds unnecessary frills.

As a guitarist, Van Etten is certainly able, and moreover, in her compositions, she uses unusual chords, harmonies and progressions, which make her songs stand out from the pack. Her denial of pop conventions gives her music a slightly sinister and certainly emotionally powerful undertow.

As a performer, she's shy, humble and slightly uncomfortable with attention. That would have the potential to be damaging, but she doesn't let it impact the confidence of her songs. In fact, in a way, her vulnerability enhances her performance and certainly leads to a set entirely conscious and respectful of her audience.

If you're wondering whether this has changed anything, no, I'm not won over to the singer-songwriter camp. Far from it. But if I had to pick a songwriter with an acoustic guitar to check out, Van Etten would certainly be near the top of my list. And next time she's on a bill with one of the bands I love, I'm definitely getting there early to catch her set!

Sharon van Etten on MySpace

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