By Caitlin Manicom
In between songs Sharon Van Etten is a total goofball. While she’s playing her music though, her hypnotizing voice and earnest, almost invariably heartbreaking lyrics evoke anything but a giggling artist eager for comic-attention. Van Etten’s lyrics are colloquial; an inward-looking conversation about vulnerability, love, and anger. Her words are also sincere and while they often read like an aching diary entry, they are words that her fans can relate to and sing along with.
Presumably, most of the audience was there to see Van Etten, but the opening act, Shearwater, did an admirable job of getting the audience revved up. The Austin-based band’s delivery was tight and precise, and lead singer Jonathan Meiburg’s vocals are powerfully versatile.
With the exception of an incredibly moving rendition of “Love More”, Van Etten mainly played songs off her ‘brand-spankin’-new album, Tramp. Her new songs – particularly “Give Out”, “Warsaw”, and “I’m Wrong” came across as psychedelic, folksy, very dark and perfectly textured. The back-up vocals added power and richness to Van Etten’s voice.
Unfourtunately, Van Etten’s act didn’t start well: there was too long a wait between Sharon Van Etten and Shearwater, the sound levels weren’t quite right – with angry reverb that left me wondering whether someone else was going to get electrocuted that night (Shearwater’s keyboardist had been electrocuted while singing into his mic during sound check), and the instruments seemed slightly out of sync. About halfway through the show Van Etten and her fellow vocalist conducted multiple attempts at counting in, and she bantered with the audience and her band-mates in between every song. But you know what? No on seemed to care. Sharon Van Etten is that goddamn charming, and that talented; the full house at Il Motore was enraptured.