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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 30, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 13
Sharon Van Etten mesmerizing at The Neptune
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Sharon Van Etten mesmerizing at The Neptune

by Jessica Price - SGN A&E Writer

Sharon Van Etten
March 25
The Neptune


Since her 2009 debut, Sharon Van Etten has unexpectedly connected with listeners in a musical landscape currently lacking realness and approachability in many of its female stars. The authenticity she possesses is seen to best effect in the success of only a handful of female singer/songwriters today - think Adele in terms of relatability and complete lack of pretension. Van Etten isn't flighty like the sublimely talented Chan Marshall of Cat Power, but she is equally profound and a thousand times more straightforward. Van Etten can face a crowded theater - articulate and armed with a guitar or perhaps a harmonium - and you won't have to hold your breath to see if she can deliver.

What first caught me about Van Etten's music was the distinctive raspy drawl of 'A Crime' from her second album, Epic. The plaintive vocals wrap around powerfully yearning lyrics and collide with driving guitar. Epic brings to mind the best parts of Fleetwood Mac, rather than anything on the ethereal end of folk. Van Etten's songs possess distinct elements of rock, folk, and a touch of country. For all the heartbreak and regret implied in her music, seeing her live at The Neptune last Sunday I was struck by just how upbeat the 31-year-old singer seemed to be. In fact, she was charming and downright chatty.

Wearing a plain white button-up and pleated, high-waisted trousers, the dark-haired singer drew inevitable comparisons to Patti Smith (literally, in the form of a fan's note read aloud by the singer professing how 'Patti Smith gorgeous' she is).

A hushed 'Give Out' kicked off the set, but Van Etten quickly switched to the urgency of 'Peace Signs' and 'Save Yourself' from Epic, proving how seamlessly her folkish styling transitions to rock. Originally from New Jersey, Van Etten studied in Tennessee, and it shows in her mildly twangy roots and slight Southern drawl. 'Kevin's,' 'Ask,' and 'Leonard' had the theater completely spellbound. 'Serpents,' the obvious standout from Tramp, directly channeled Sharon's inner fierceness. With one self-effacing encore, the band closed with a pair of songs from both major releases: stunners 'One Day' and 'All I Can.'

Backing vocalist and keyboardist Heather Woods Broderick was a perfect foil to Van Etten's deeper vocals. The three musicians making up the backing band were all individually talented (Woods Broderick, as well as bassist Doug Keith and drummer Zeke Hutchins), but sadly, didn't feel like an extension of Van Etten, instead restraining themselves to make way for the singer. A talent like her can actually burn a little brighter in a good pairing. Take, for instance, Tramp, produced by The National's Aaron Dessner, which also includes vital contributions from Matt Barrick (The Walkmen), and Zach Condon (Beirut).

Sharon Van Etten's distinctive songs and 'one-woman show' will take her far in the coming years. While we keep waiting for the careers of many of her contemporaries to stabilize, it seems that Van Etten is already there. It's refreshing to come across a singer-songwriter so self-assured and truly interesting, one quietly growing stronger before our eyes.

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