The haunting, mournful stylings of Sharon Van Etten filled Fitzgerald’s in Houston on Thursday, celebrating a late Halloween with a small but dedicated crowd.
Sharon Van Etten is a young artist, but her music is made for women, not girls. Nothing exhibited this more than Thursday’s show, which demonstrated the maturity in Van Etten’s music, reinforced by the strength, power, and purpose of her voice. Songs like “Kevin’s” and “Leonard,” both off of Van Etten’s most recent album, Tramp, revealed a true artist, solid and statuesque in her performance and still and steady on her feet. “Save Yourself” brought the show to a calm, quiet place and, with the help of bandmate Heather Woods Broderick’s epic harmonies, delivered the audience from evil.
Balancing respect for great music and respect for one’s fans can be a challenge. That tension inspired Van Etten’s mid-set “apology” to two women whom she had chastised for chatterboxing their way through Damien Jurado’s opening set. It’s hard to say whether Van Etten was sincerely troubled by her admonition or if she was just trying to get people to can it during her own set. But the pause seemed to get people to shut their mouths and open their ears — that is, after a drunk woman waved her hands and loudly apologized for talking so much.
Musically, the show transcended the typical musical fare of women with guitars. Van Etten brought out some strange, UFO-esque electronic harpsichord thing for “Magic Chords,” which, layered neatly with the expert designs of her band, made for one complex, spooky song. The eeriness continued with “Don’t Do It,” which combined a melancholy crescendo of vocals with foreboding, post-Halloween percussion. The final song of the set, “I’m Wrong,” featured a harrowing cacophony of sound and artistic fury, complete with Doug Keith playing his guitar with a bow during the song’s final moments. No doubt about it: Van Etten’s show was something special.
Despite all the skill and spookiness, it was only a crowd of 30-40 that cheered out for Van Etten’s encore. Van Etten was kind enough to oblige, playing “Peace Signs” with a Stevie Nicks spirit accompanied by her own steely stare.
The New Jersey native was not without her comments on the week’s major news item, Hurricane Sandy. The final song of the encore, “In Line,” was dedicated both simultaneously to her father and to the insurance on his now-flooded beach house. “To insurance!” Van Etten chanted with the audience, finishing the set with what she described as her best attempt at a Neil Young song.
Houston’s lazy, tired, and gainfully employed denizens missed out on a seriously exceptional show. If you have a chance to see Sharon Van Etten in the future, prepare to be moved and shaken.