The haunting, mournful stylings of Sharon Van Etten filled Fitzgeraldâ€™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 Thursdayâ€™s show, which demonstrated the maturity in Van Ettenâ€™s music, reinforced by the strength, power, and purpose of her voice. Songs like â€œKevinâ€™sâ€ and â€œLeonard,â€ both off of Van Ettenâ€™s most recent album, Tramp, revealed a true artist, solid and statuesque in her performance and still and steady on her feet. â€œSave Yourselfâ€ brought the show to a calm, quiet place and, with the help of bandmate Heather Woods Broderickâ€™s epic harmonies, delivered the audience from evil.
Balancing respect for great music and respect for oneâ€™s fans can be a challenge. That tension inspired Van Ettenâ€™s mid-set â€œapologyâ€ to two women whom she had chastised for chatterboxing their way through Damien Juradoâ€™s opening set. Itâ€™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 â€œMagic Chords,â€ which, layered neatly with the expert designs of her band, made for one complex, spooky song. The eeriness continued with â€œDonâ€™t Do It,â€ which combined a melancholy crescendo of vocals with foreboding, post-Halloween percussion. The final song of the set, â€œIâ€™m Wrong,â€ featured a harrowing cacophony of sound and artistic fury, complete with Doug Keith playing his guitar with a bow during the songâ€™s final moments. No doubt about it: Van Ettenâ€™s show was something special.
Despite all the skill and spookiness, it was only a crowd of 30-40 that cheered out for Van Ettenâ€™s encore. Van Etten was kind enough to oblige, playing â€œPeace Signsâ€ with a Stevie Nicks spirit accompanied by her own steely stare.
The New Jersey native was not without her comments on the weekâ€™s major news item, Hurricane Sandy. The final song of the encore, â€œIn Line,â€ was dedicated both simultaneously to her father and to the insurance on his now-flooded beach house. â€œTo insurance!â€ Van Etten chanted with the audience, finishing the set with what she described as her best attempt at a Neil Young song.
Houstonâ€™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.