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Concert Fri Nov 09 2012
There is a certain way in which Sharon Van Etten has always been powerful. Her grace and elegance were never an issue in making her songs great and her live performance memorable. At the same time, it seems each visit to Chicago, her fans see a woman that is slowly transforming into someone who is stronger and who makes the songwriting seem less like simple poems and more like challenges to the psyche. We're seeing her take control and possess more of her songs both instrument wise and lyrically even though she's now playing with a band behind her. In other words, it still seems like it's coming from Sharon Van Etten and even in her most cool and collected moments where she's joking around, there's a sense that she feels good taking herself seriously because that's exactly what her songs deserve.
Along with this sense of self assurance comes the ability to make certain risks, which also enhances the stage presence. In previous tours when she merely had her debut album 2009's Because I Was In Love, her live sets were kept straight forward. They were still ones to treasure but they were also more predictable in the sense that she kept to playing the songs as they appeared on album vs. changing them in any way. Van Etten is now able to wait for the mood to develop on songs like "Serpents" for example and in that space we appreciate the song more for it's own sense of complexity. She's rocking out increasingly more than ever too but she never seems like she's having fun until between the songs. Instead, she seems content, nay devoted, to taking each song to its next level during the playing of it. Her sense of concentration and poise is admirable but it's also very intriguing to watch because one feels how much she's invested in each chord progression and word that she sings. One couldn't be too sure where the songs were headed during the live set but it was enjoyable where she took them.
It would be remiss not to mention the band's stellar playing throughout, however. Van Etten herself played guitar and Omnichord with three total back up band members on Harmonium, Bass, Drums, and Keyboards. There was a nice sense of them all getting along, knowing each other's sense of timing, and even harmonizing vocally at times. The cinematic visuals of buildings, snow, trees, and other scenes of nature also helped the band seem increasingly picturesque, at times like enchanted woodland dwellers, throughout their 80 min. long set.
In addition, one can't really speak of Sharon Van Etten without mentioning her sense of humor, which was still quite evident in between songs. Early on, she expressed some happiness and acknowledgement of the excitement in Chicago over Obama's victory and (though most of the audience cheered) when one person yelled "F-(swear word) Politics!" the band pretended the person had yelled "Proctologist!" and started talking about seeing a Proctologist before introducing their next song, "Give Out," which increased the hilarity of the moment. She also talked about living with her parents for a year and was really honest about the journey she's taken in her life. When someone in the audience quipped, "I bet you saved money!," Sharon Van Etten responded "Yes, and they saved my life."
Not only did she show appreciation for her family but for her friends in New Jersey who spent time with her when she was writing some of her early songs in a basement and there was definitely a sentimental side that showed itself as it often did in earlier tours. It was funny to hear another devoted fan up front who was possibly seeing Sharon Van Etten for the first time emphatically exclaim "You're really good! This set was great!" but she was probably echoing the mood and sentiment of many. We've all found something that can last. It's Sharon.