Sharon Van Etten Live at The Sinclair

Stevie Dunbar, Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten and opening act Torres set out to dispel any misconceptions that singer-songwriter acts are tame, captivating a sold-out crowd at The Sinclair with two high-intensity sets. The artists may have preached to the choir though, as there was a palpable, excited buzz going through the young and smart-looking crowd before either act even started. Audience members, many dressed in plaid shirts and neat dresses, eagerly filed in and edged in closer to the stage, all hoping to secure a good vantage point. The anticipation surrounding the show is largely thanks to Etten, who just released her accomplished fourth studio album, Are We There, which polishes up her glossy folk sound and already rounded up pile of critical acclaim. 

The venue had already filled considerably when Torres took to the stage, decked in authentic western cowboy attire that reflected her Nashville roots. Mackenzie Scott, the primary songwriter behind the act, made a tremendous amount of sound with minimal accompaniment, only a drummer with a small drum kit and a bass player to her sides. The simple instrumentation let Scott’s vocals take center stage, reaching from snarling anger to low, soft, sadness. Even when the song-writer excused her band mates for some solo songs, she held the room hostage with her unique warm guitar tones and enormous voice. Torres thrives as a live act, the imperfect passion of her performance bringing new emotion to her songs. 

The concert moved along at a quick pace, and it seemed like only moments after Torres left the stage Sharon Van Etten and her band briskly walked onto it. “We’re here,” Etten said happily, “This is the very beginning of our tour.” Etten opened with one of her signature slow ballads, and the talking and bustle of the audience instantly hushed, people swaying back and forth. By the second song, a soaring performance of “Taking Chances,” the single off of her latest release, the audience stood fully mesmerized. Her full band clustered around her, and there was a visible sense of closeness and camaraderie as the band played through the dreamy songs together. 

“This is an old song, in case you wanted to know what we used to sound like,” Etten joked at one point, giggling to herself before breaking into “Don’t Do It” off 2010’s Epic. Sharon Van Etten put on this balancing act the entire night, filling the in-betweens of her sad searing songs with plenty of light banter. A master of whimsy and charm, she chatted casually with the people in the front, and answered all of the many questions the crowd shouted her way. 

 Etten proved that she is as open and frank in person as her confessional music suggests, at one point informing the audience that the song “You Know Me Well” is about her therapist before playing the slow, serene song. Honesty is at the core of her music, and if her deep, warbling vocals did not already express this, her straightforward demeanor did the rest of the work. Etten split her time between two synthesizers, playing many of the whirring, entrancing sounds found on the latest release herself. These new songs, notably “Break Me,” stood out in the evening, and her vast voice and tragic lyrics held full command over the audience.

Between Sharon Van Etten and her fiery opener Torres, the entire evening was a celebration of those singer-songwriters whose simple music has inexplicable power to it. Sharon Van Etten took what could have been perceived as mellow music and performed it as something larger and more frenetic, fully conveying the emotional turmoil she writes about. 

By Mary Kate McGrath
Photo by Stevie Dunbar

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