Sharon Van Etten with Tennis at the Phoenix; Tuesday July 31, 2012

I noticed last fall that an artist by the name Sharon Van Etten was playing Lee’s Palace with Shearwater, a band year after year “I’ve been meaning to see”. A pal in New York posted something online of her great affection for Van Etten, I immediately asked for a few tracks from her. Not an instant love, but an instant like, I appreciated what I heard. I ended up wrangling nearly my entire department to see her play last February. The Lee’s Palace gig last February was packed to the gills. Five months later, Van Etten and Tennis couldn’t wrangle that many people in. To me, that indicates that people are interested her but don’t feel the need to see her over again in one year.

This was definitely a lively show. Last time I got the impression she was incredibly high, while that may have been the case. Her light, goofy personality carried well at this second show but had a bit more heart to it. Van Etten was incontestably having a great day. This show also had a relaxed sense of ease to it. Between the opening act, Tennis and Van Etten’s set, there wasn’t much lag time and people seemed to be equally interested in both bands.

Van Etten played a great variety of songs from her three albums. It was really refreshing to hear her tunes properly thought though and well-orchestrated. She had a band of four, most notable being the sometimes keyboard, sometimes voice and sometimes guitar player. Her layered voice brought some warmth to Van Etten’s rough sound. The songs were full, sounding much like the studio versions, in the best way possible.

I was absolutely floored by how amazing Van Etten’s voice sounded. She has extremely bold vocal parts that many people would shy away from.  Van Etten’s voice is distinct but very strong, rarely meandering flat. She proved herself in playing an older tune, by request, called “DsharpG.” The tune was just her voice while she played the harmonium which came off sounding hauntingly beautiful.

Her openers were the selling point for this show. It’s so rare that both the opener and the headliner are bands that you adore. Van Etten kept explaining her excitement to tour with Tennis and described its similarities to camping in the wilderness. I stumbled in  just after nine, so I missed the first few songs of which I assume they were “Take Me Somewhere,” “Pigeon” and “It All Feels the Same.” My three favourite tunes that I’ve heard them play the last few times I saw them but were absent this gig.

As always, Tennis dazzled. This was the first time I’ve seen them outside of the walls of the Horseshoe Tavern. Lead singer Alaina Moore like the last time had some killer moves to tunes where she wasn’t restricted to behind her keyboard. The petit gal was supported by the fun noodles her hubby, Patrick Riley.

Moore dedicated their last tune to Bill Doss of Olivia Tremor Control and Elephant 6, who had passed away earlier that day.

The theme of this summer has definitely been bass-free bands. Tennis definitely makes it passable with their one, often two keyboards which compensate for the skeleton that the bass provides. Similarly, Van Etten’s band often did without a bass too.

After returning from Hillside, I was subject to some amazing Canadian gems. Some acts of the festival this year – Kathleen Edwards, Zeus, Great Lake Swimmers and Bahamas to name a few. The festival espoused a ton of Canadian pride which made it very special. Kathleen Edwards, girlfriend of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon introduced her back-up singer Julie Fader to the crowd and declared that it was her first day fully away from her new born. Interestingly, Van Etten gave a glowing shout-out to Fader at her gig claiming that she was one of her favourite people in the entire world and dedicated a tune to her.

This relation made me chuckle a bit as it’s so interesting to note how many connections an artist may have or could potentially have. So, in response to this I made a flow chart that describes the relationships of Sharon Van Etten.

The way I’ve simplified this is to describe to you a hypothetical scene. Say in a year’s time in February of 2014, Van Etten hosted a birthday party for her 32nd birthday. She hosted in Brooklyn because that’s where she and most of her musical pals live. In walks The National and Aaron Dessner, who produced her glorious new album Tramp. Following the National walks in Bon Iver, who in 2010 teamed up with the National to play cover Van Etten’s mesmerising tune “Love More.” From this cover Van Etten wrote Dessner who then invited her to record it in his home studio. On Bon Iver’s arm is Kathleen Edwards who was in good company with she and Sarah Harmer’s background singer Julie Fader.

After a little while TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone stumbles in. Malone was the initial push to get Van Etten to record her very first album. Almost at the same time Tennis stroll in with the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney who produced Tennis’ album Young and Old.

The Walkmen enter the door with Rob Moose who gets warmly welcomed by members of the National, a band which he plays the violin with sometimes, when he’s not playing with Bon Iver.

OK you get my point here. It’s pretty amazing to see the connections these artists make.

The original SVE version of “Love More”:

Bon Iver’s cover of SVE’s “Love More”:


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