Friday, March 13
It was, in many ways, a great treat to see Sharon Van Etten perform live. That voice – gorgeous. And it was intimate, just her and band-member Heather Woods Broderick, a truncated version of the touring band, sold here as “stripped back/down”. And the songs – at their best these are lovely-sounding with a darkness deep inside them.
But those same positives became negatives as the show trudged on. That voice, heavenly, aching, beautiful started to feel sonorous, dutiful because every single song was framed the same way. Basic guitar strum, a touch of keys, backing vocals. That was it. Broderick was a subtle strength of the show in her harmony vocals – as with the best backing/harmony vocals you noticed her more when she wasn’t there. But the songs really started to feel the same, almost as if several had been repeated even.
There were – as is always the case at concerts – the hardcore fans salivating, hanging on every diary entry-styled word. But I couldn’t keep interested.
The treatment of a Karen Dalton unreleased song, I Remember Mountains (Dalton’s words, Van Etten’s melody and music) was an early highlight. And there were a handful of new songs, including at least one without a title, still in demo/sketch form. But as wonderful as it was to hear songs like Tarifa I really felt we were short-changed by not seeing the full band.
This was, in all likelihood, the one chance to see Sharon Van Etten here in New Zealand. I doubt she’ll be back. And we didn’t get to hear the best versions of some of the songs. And in a lot of cases we didn’t get to hear the best songs – this stripped-back setting, the duo, favoured the songs from Are We There. I love that album – but there’s more grunt in so much of the music Sharon Van Etten released before the latest album. There’s certainly more happening, in terms of musical dynamics.
And instead we got too many songs framed the exact same way. Same tempo, same languid flow, same feelings of longing. Same. Same. Same.
I wanted to love this show. And for a few moments I did – the first half-dozen songs certainly. After a while it began to feel like a rort.
And that’s a great shame.