Sharon Van Etten – March 28th – The Bluebird

Photos by Ty Hyten

The Scene: Last Wednesday night, The Bluebird showcased a strange combination of dark and brooding shoegaze and freshly confident folk sounds. The room slowly filled as people of all ages filtered into the venue generating the typical din of pre-show chatter. Wondering what kind of people would be attracted to the night’s split bill, I carried out my regular routine of examining the instruments already on stage, as well as the crowd around me. I wandered around and then made my way to the front with ease, as the crowd had not yet become dense.

The Opener:  The War On Drugs. The stage was filled with a tangle of cords, amps, and instruments when The War On Drugs took the stage armed with trumpet, keys, and guitar, and began to reproduce the entrancing haze of their new album, Slave Ambient.  I crept close enough to see the multi-colored, multi-effect pedals of the rock group; each red, yellow, and blue pedal was throbbing with just as much energy as the bulging reverb laden tones of their music.

The band’s drummer, Steve Urgo, clearly shared the spotlight of the show with lead guitarist and vocalist, Adam Granduciel. Urgo maintained impenetrable focus and accompanied the band at a rock solid pace as Granduciel thumbed through his classic rock riffs and wove his voice into the wall of ambient noise.

Sadly the sound did not come off nearly as well as it does on the band’s studio albums. Granduciel’s harmonica interludes provided some excitement, yet most audience members looked forced to sway at times as The War on Drugs’ musical oddities failed to communicate well in the small theater. Despite a less than stellar set, the Philadelphia based band has kept a spot on my radar.

Sharon Van Etten: Moving from dark shoegaze of The War on Drugs to the folk music of Sharon Van Etten was refreshing. Van Etten and her band put their emotions on display as they conjured up images of recovering heartbreak and relief that drew the entire crowd in; myself included.

As she performed, her music made the outsiders feel like locals, and the locals feel like family. From time to time she would even chat with members of The War On Drugs and her family who stood in the audience.  This gave the show a comfortable and homey feel even as the drunks in the corners of the theater howled as Sharon emotionally exposed herself with tracks like “Leonard” and “I’m Wrong.”

While her songs probed at the deepest of human emotions, Sharon’s lyrics seemed to avoid being overly honest as she burned even brighter on stage than on her recent album, Tramp. Sharon balanced the night between intricate feelings, and stories of poignant and entertaining matters, such as lesbians, love amongst family, and her own personal insecurities. The drums and backup vocals were a perfect compliment to the 5 foot-nothing gem, as she swayed with her guitar and plowed through the shots of whiskey like a 1920’s bootlegger.

Sharon Van Etten’s performance was stunning to say the least. As both a music lover, and a gambler, I can’t help but be thoroughly pleased with the results of a night that was nothing more than a crapshoot. Sharon Van Etten found a unique niche in my heart with her folky sounds and charming vocals that are sure to bring in a bigger crowd at her next Denver appearance.

Energy: B
Sound: A
Musicianship: B+
Stage Presence: B+
Set/Light Show: C+

Overall: B