That naturally meant the buzz surrounding her concert Saturday night at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles was palpable, and true to form, Van Etten pleased the masses with a strong showcase of her new material.
Watching Van Etten live is a mesmerizing experience. Dressed in a black top and gold skirt, the Brooklyn native wooed the audience with a friendly, almost shy, demeanor. Not bombastic in any way, Van Etten was comfortable telling self-deprecating stories and letting everyone know how happy she was just to be there.
It’s a charming tact that makes it that much easier to follow Van Etten’s musical journey into the dark and emotional nooks and crannies her songs inhabit. Van Etten is ,afterall, known to write about some heavy things, and Are We There is no different.
Van Etten did her best to keep things light though, at one point even suggesting that she finish her set with only cover songs. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
Surrounded by a tight four-piece backing band, Van Etten sang of love and loss, friends and enemies, heartbreak and redemption, using sweet harmonies and spare instrumentation to create lush landscapes. Van Etten’s songs don’t have to be complex; They are emotional heavyweights all unto themselves.
The first three tracks Van Etten unveiled were all Are We There tunes in “Afraid of Nothing,” “Taking Chances” and “Tarifa.”
“Taking Chances” was especially gritty, as Van Etten powerfully strummed her Fender Jaguar during the ethereal chorus, giving it a vibe that was more rock and less folk than she typically offers. “Tarifa” was another standout performance, mostly because it differed from the brilliant album version. On Are We There, “Tarifa” is accented by bleating saxophones, but there were no horns in sight for the still-powerful brass-free version at the El Rey.
Fans familiar with Van Etten’s catalog might be surprised to know that the singer/songwriter did not include a few of her more notable tracks from the past, like “Love More” from 2010’s Epic or “Give Out” from 2012’s Tramp. But she also left attendees wanting more by closing her main set with the dreamy “Your Love is Killing Me” and wrapping up her encore with the brooding “Every Time the Sun Comes Up.”
At the end of the event, it was clear that Van Etten has taken yet another step as an artist, with a collection of new music that is both beautiful and gut wrenching at the same time. Van Etten might speak softly, but there is a lot of power inside her diminutive frame.
Sharon Van Etten Setlist:
“Afraid of Nothing”
“ Taking Chances ”
“ Save Yourself”
“ Nothing Will Change”
“ Break Me ”
“Don’t Do It”
“ I Love You But I’m Lost”
“ You Know Me Well ”
“ Your Love Is Killing Me”
“All I Can”
“ Every Time The Sun Comes Up”