As this is the case for intimate shows, it can get very personal. This is what happened during Sharon Van Etten’s show at the Troubadour on Sunday night. Once again, I got the chance to see a major artist in a very intimate venue, an occasion I value the most. At a time when Taylor Swift fills out the 100,000 seats of the So Fi Stadium for a show in support of all of her albums, Sharon Van Etten chose the legendary Troubadour (capacity 500) to celebrate the 10th (rather 11th) anniversary of her superb album “Tramp,” and it was a very rewarding experience for any fan, as the intimacy of a performance, just like Beck’s concert at the Lodge Room last week, made the experience extremely special.
“Tramp” is a very emotional album, and it was not the first time I was seeing her perform these songs which can be felt like transformative experiences, but this time, it was 11 years later. It’s difficult to realize that “Tramp” was released in 2012… “It doesn’t make sense,” she told us reflecting on the passing of time, “but I think you know what I mean.” If Sharon looks barely older, she seemed more confident on stage while the raw emotions attached to songs like “Kevin’s,” “Leonard,” All I Can,” or “Ask” were still intact and beautifully performed with the help of a full band. During the entire show, Jorge Balbi on drums, Devon Hoff on bass, Teeny Lieberson on vocals and synths, and Charley Damski on synthesizers and guitars worked efficiently but discreetly, leaving plenty of space for Sharon Van Etten while maximizing her songs to perfection.
“I always dreamed of playing the Troubadour,” she wrote on social media to announce the show a few weeks ago. Since the event sold out instantaneously, she also set up a ticketed live-stream with proceeds donated to the Turkey and Syria Earthquake Relief Fund, a nice gesture reflecting her generous personality.
Wearing a fishnet shirt and black leather pants, she looked sexy but grounded and took the stage under a loud clamor of applause. She immediately started playing the songs from “Tramp,” in the album order, while taking the time to talk between tracks, getting very personal at times. It was an honest and sensible reenactment of something she wrote a decade ago, even though Sharon van Etten is probably in a much better place now. At the time she could only write about isolation, discomfort, and mistrust. “It has been a looooong time,” she told us.
Her confessional style – she has also called it self-therapy – worked marvelously in the intimacy of the Troubadour, and her voice still had this unique luminous elegance wrapped in a constant touch of sadness and yearning, going through a full register of emotions. Her voice particularly shone during the less rocking songs such as “Give Out” filling the line “You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city” with a mix of resigned and angry emotions.
Her songs, already very personal, were introduced and cheered up with a personal touch and anecdotes like the one she told before the emotional slow burn “Kevin’s: “When I wrote this record, I was couch-surfing, house-setting, and between boyfriends. Who here has been dumped on New Year’s Eve? I actually did the dumping!” She admitted while telling us that she just “wanted to be alone to finish the record.” Several times during the show she mentioned her family, her romantic partner Zeke Hutchins and her son, “My little boy watching the show, I already owe you a dollar, but I was a shithead at the time!”
The dreamy waltz-y “Leonard” followed “Kevin’s,” the song with that ascending line that crashes like a hard confession: “I am bad”– “I am bad at loving,” making you realize what a gem of emotions this album still is. Other times, she exchanged a few words with people in the room, mentioning jetlag before the cathartic “All I Can,” a song she wrote in one setting – that’s why it doesn’t make any sense – while in Japan under the influence of a significant case of jetlag.
The vocal harmonies provided by Teeny Lieberson were superb, but Sharon brought back on stage other fabulous women. First, Adriana Mccassim, who had opened the night with her own set of moody and dramatic songs and a few escapades in country music. Together they did the bright “We Are Fine,” which ambiguously narrates Sharon’s fight through a panic attack. This was a reminiscence of old psychic wounds, but on stage, the two women were really fine as they were all smiles and hugs.
“11 years is a wild thing,” she said at one point. Everything she was telling us was an indication she was in a good place. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said commenting on her private life. “I wrote this song on the organ, but I played it on tour with an omnichord,” she told us before playing “Magic Chords,” on guitar. “But now they cost $1,000!” she added as a fake excuse for not bringing the instrument on stage. The crowd was listening religiously, cheering up when Sharon noticed a boss shirt in the crowd: “Bruce if you are watching!” she added laughing.
The night was filled with highlights… “Tramp” has so many songs I truly love! “Ask” had never sounded more triumphant with Sharon’s amazing raspy voice at the top of the orchestration. When “Tramp” was over, she came back for an encore with three songs and a big surprise: Angel Olsen joined her on stage for their Springsteen-esque song, “Like I Used To.” The crowd went absolutely ecstatic while both women could barely contain their joy. It was a special treat to see these two great female singer-songwriters perform together again after their Wild Hearts tour last year. The moment was difficult to top, but Sharon gave everything she had during the closing song, “Seventeen,” kneeling down in front of a fan who ended up in tears. This was such a special moment as the lucky girl couldn’t stop crying for several minutes after the show.
All I Can
We Are Fine
Joke or a Lie
I Want You Here
Like I Used To (with Angel Olsen)
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