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Sharon Van Etten has a good habit of touring with equally as impressive and underrated musicians as herself. From indie rockers Shearwater to Boston-favorite Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, Etten’s openers repeatedly surprise crowds by bringing just as much a show to the stage as the headliner herself. If his name wasn’t recognizable enough, Damien Jurado was quick to show last night’s crowd at the Paradise Rock Club that he was no exception to Etten’s score of openers.
With a distinct lo-fi, folk sound (think Death Cab for Cutie B-side guitar-work plus deep, rusty Mark Kozelek vocals) and twelve full-length albums in his back pocket (not including EPs), Jurado knows what it is that gets people to fall in love with music. Jurado extended his knowledge far beyond that, however, by showing he knows how to make a crowd fall in love with the concert, too.
Wrinkles creased on his face, each one a symbol of meditated reflection from chewing up actions and putting them down in script for over 40 years, and his thick sweater shamelessly bore holes and tears. A carefully constructed setlist included newer songs like “Rachel and Cali” from 2010′s Saint Bartlett, a snow-topped “Everything Trying” from 2008′s Caught in the Trees, and the title-track from his newest album, Maraqopa, released this year. What may initially serve as simple key changes work themselves as another peg to make Jurado’s concert experience churn.
Sharon Van Etten and her backup singer Heather Broderick joined Jurado for “Working Titles”, their harmonies as still as a note ringing out from a piano, but with the timbre of a violin, fading in and out like reminders. Jurado conveyed the words as any good storyteller would: lips curled over his teeth and eyebrows hanging in worry for the characters his lyrics followed.
What made his opening set notable was the banter between songs, which picked up tremendously towards the end. Damien Jurado couldn’t keep himself from apologizing for possibly rude statements (“None of you even know who I am.”), poking fun at tracks (“This is the happiest song you’ll hear all night. It’s not even happy; it just sounds happy,” he said of “Arkansas”), and questioning the crowd (specifically a girl in the front row for requesting the serial killer track “Fuel”, which she promptly swooned over once played). The crowd loved it. “I’m trying to smile more and I’m trying to be nicer,” he said, getting laughs, before shaking his head and raising an eye. “I thought Damien Jurado was a sensitive singer-songwriter; what the f**k is this?”
Sharon Van Etten and her loyal crew of bassist/guitarist Doug Keith, singer/keyboardist Heather Broderick, and drummer Zeke Hutchins took the stage in matching Damien Jurado shirts and an air of relaxtion. It could have been from Jurado’s unplugged and intimate “Let Us All In” just minutes before, or the realization that their final tour date had arrived, but Etten was very much at peace.
A backdrop of twigs and tree branches filmed across the four while Etten beautifully sang “Save Yourself” from 2010′s Epic, and the vocals on “Leonard”, which got some cheers when she began the first few chords, were just as comforting as they were awakening. It seems like Etten manages to pop up at festivals and opening gigs left and right, but it isn’t due to promotional trickery. The woman’s voice has a mind of its own and the body of a snake, sliding into your head and twirling around until you never want it to leave.
A calming sense of confidence, metaphor-mangled lyrics, and reserved remarks: most folk artists boast these, but Sharon Van Etten lacks all three — and for the better. Etten is known for her wavering confidence and charmingly dorky banter. Song requests were replied to in a Boston accent and inside jokes from previous shows (most notably the “Jagoff” conversation from her last visit to Boston’s Paradise Rock Club in February of this year) were brought up throughout the performance, but never got in the way of songs. Many served as launching points into tracks, adding fuel to already powerful hits like “Serpents”, which elevates itself to another dimension with heavy anger when played live.
Sharon Van Etten, although seemingly worn from the lengthy tour, still had childish stories to share, much to the delight of the audience. One listener gave crystal bracelets to Etten at a Vermont show (made while listening to her music) to make her feel more secure. After handing one of the two to Hutchins, she joked, “Did you feel my confidence level drop just then?”
An unusual creature, the Minichord is a medium-sized, electronic, gray instrument used in some of Sharon Van Etten’s songs, like “Magic Chords”. The small square buttons held out notes like on the accordion a hum that sounded almost fuzzy and old, and she glided her finger across a small metal strip that sent harp echoes and dream waves into through the speakers each time she took a hold of it.
The strongest moment from the set had to have been when the four played “I’m Wrong” off Tramp. The four minute song went on for what felt like seven minutes of moody rock: a violin bow on an electric guitar, several buzzing hive sounds, a drumstick scraping on a cymbal, reverb guitar shaking, and Sharon’s plucking wandering through it all.
Etten ended the show with signature song “Love More”, the closing track off Epic which has been covered by Bon Iver and The National. Everyone couldn’t help but smile when they made eye contact with her, from bandmates to crowd members.
Touring from February straight through to mid-November was more than grueling.To be at the final show of a tour that long, however, allowed fans the opportunity to see musicians unstitch their seams, reveal memories and thanks accumulated throughout the year, and embrace with a sense of finality that is strangely comforting as it is sad.