Sharon Van Etten Charms The Bowery Ballroom

February 27th, 2012

Sharon Van Etten – The Bowery Ballroom – February 25, 2012

Sharon Van Etten looks different. She doesn’t usually wear dresses. And especially not heels. All her tattoos are visible: Two bold lines wrap around the flesh of her left forearm, a bird sits near her right biceps and a guitar’s sound hole and strings are on the tracks of her veins. In other words, she is exposed. But exposure is central to Van Etten’s music. Many singer-songwriters tap into heartbreak as a resource for material. Few, however, do it as effectively as she. With emotional honesty, beautiful counterpoint harmonies and simple, catchy melodies, Van Etten takes the individual experience of lost love and makes it accessible. Pain pop.

The crowd was especially receptive at The Bowery Ballroom on Saturday, perhaps because it was the singer’s 31st birthday. Her family was in the audience and made it known, shouting encouragement in between songs. Van Etten kindly responded, half embarrassed and half pleased to have material for stage banter. Because impromptu speaking doesn’t come easy to her and there are tense silences—but her kind ethos made up for it. She is, simply, charming.

Congeniality is important when playing songs with such emotional heft. You don’t want people to get the wrong idea when singing, “Serpents in my mind, looking for your crimes.” The songs may be dark, but goodness permeates Van Eetten’s demeanor. The Antlers gave her a giant balloon man made out of balloons for her birthday and she proudly displays it onstage. She is confident; more confident than earlier concerts and albums. She looks different. She sounds great. —Jared Levy

Photos courtesy of Diana Wong |