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Sharon Van Etten

Tuesday, August 7th

The Neptune

For someone who makes such sad music, Sharon Van Etten seems like a very happy person. Each

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Sharon Van Etten Plays Sad Songs for Happy People, Last Night at the Neptune

Thumbnail image for sharon1.jpg
Sharon Van Etten

Tuesday, August 7th

The Neptune

For someone who makes such sad music, Sharon Van Etten seems like a very happy person. Each time she comes to town, her relaxed, cheerful stage presence puts the crowd at ease, lulling her listeners into a trance before luring them to crash on the rocks of unhappier times. Last night was no exception. Between banter about Fred Meyer jingles and "Welcome To the Jungle," she sang mournful slow-burners about breaking up, doing the wrong thing, and quitting smoking, all at the same time.

In this oversaturated age, Van Etten's songs are uniquely timeless. She's written songs worthy of Neil Young or Sandy Denny, work that wouldn't sound out of place on a dusty LP at Jive Time or "rediscovered" by Light in the Attic. That timeless quality attracted listeners to 2010's Epic, whose closer "Love More" was picked up on by acts as big as Bon Iver and the National, and continued on this year's Tramp. But her music can be hard to pin down-- even Van Etten joked from the stage, "It's kind of folk, it's kind of rock. We have a suggestion box by the merch" for the perfect descriptor.

Whatever you call the music, the result sticks with you. Starting the set with a "greatest hits" of sorts from February's Tramp, she played "Leonard," "All I Can" and "Warsaw," mixed in with Epic's great "Peace Signs." Supported by Doug Keith on bass and guitar, Zeke Hutchins on drums, and Heather Woods Broderick on backing vocals and keys, her professional band shared her relaxed, positive demeanor, generating a lot of sound, but never getting worked up-- Hutchins' button-down shirt still looked crisp after an hour and a half of drumming under the hot stage lights. In Woods Broderick, Van Etten has found the perfect foil to her haunting vocals, adding an important layer of harmony to the live performance that was sadly missing in pre-Tramp times. But when the band left the stage mid-set, Van Etten's solo performance of Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" served as a sharp reminder that you'd never mistake her voice for anyone else's.

Fans hoping for new music were out of luck-- except for a rejected rocker from the sessions for her last album, everything in the set came from Epic or Tramp. After playing for nearly an hour and a half, she closed with "Love More," eschewing its usual harmonium for an intricate guitar line. The room, less than half full at this point, still cheered loudly enough to bring her back for a two-song encore, which she accepted with her usual self-deprecating grace. But no matter how long the set, Van Etten's rare combination of an approachable personality and a growing songwriting talent will keep audiences craving more.

The Crowd: A chill, sober mix of NPR-listening parents and couples of every orientation who adored Sharon.

On a Side Note: Chris recently noted that the best seat in the Paramount is at the top of the balcony. It's no different at the Neptune, but can we do something about the overwhelmingly boom-y floor for those of us who want to see the performers up close?

 
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