February 28, 2012


Sharon Van Etten: The Cure to What Ails You


Some say that music is the best medicine and last weekend that certainly was the case. 

I had waited months to see Brooklyn singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten live, a fact only compounded by the near-constant accolades of friends and colleagues who had seen her album release shows behind the fantastic Tramp (shows I had missed, unfortunately). I was certainly familiar with Sharon—I was utterly struck by her set at South by Southwest last year, which I ranked highly in my reports at SPIN—and I love her new album, so I was more than ready. Then Friday night, 24 hours before her gig at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom, sickness struck. 

Food poisoning? Bug from hell? The flu? Black plague? Who knows. Either way, it sucked. Hard. But when I had to make the tough decision of whether to wither in bed or suck it up and hop the subway to the show, I opted for the latter. I didn’t regret my decision. 

Sharon’s gentle, tender sounds soothed my sick and tired soul. I had questioned my decision-making skills as I rolled over the Williamsburg Bridge to Manhattan while sweating ice bullets. But here I was being serenaded by something gorgeous. It's far better than the soup and YouTube party I had planned.

Van Etten opened with two of my favorite songs, “All I Can” and “Warsaw,” both from Tramp. Both shimmer with production from the National’s Aaron Dessner, elevating Van Etten’s yearning and heartbreak to transcendence, and that sound is preserved live too. In fact, at the Bowery, it was both more intimate and more powerful. It was like Van Etten was sing-whispering into my ear, like a desperate last broadcast as the flood waters of sound rose around her. 

The shadow-y “Serpents,” the first single from Tramp, followed in suit, as did “Love More,” a crushing song (often covered by Bon Iver) from her breakout album Epic. Her desperation—“It made me love / It made me love more”—rose with harmonium (like a hand-pump accordion of sorts) and gentle electric guitar licks. It was so beautiful I almost forgot I was sick. Then I nearly collapsed onto a poor girl standing next to me. 

So I had a seat on the venue's balcony to take it all in. I was a little shaky. Perhaps because I was sick (uh-huh). But I prefer to think that it’s because of the weight and raw emotional beauty of her live show. It’s some powerful stuff.

So I urge—beg?—you to see Van Etten while she’s on tour this spring. Check out her tour itinerary here. And while you wait for her to roll into a town near you, listen to a few of my favorite tracks below—“Warsaw,” “Serpents” and “Love More.”

Sharon Van Etten, "Warsaw"

Sharon Van Etten, "Serpents"

Sharon Van Etten, "Love More"