Sharon van Etten – Rickshaw Theatre (Vancouver – July 6, 2014)
“I can’t wait / ’til we hide / from nothing” is the poignant refrain from “Afraid of Nothing”, the first song in Sharon van Etten’s Vancouver set. The Rickshaw — essentially a large, open concrete box with only about 15 rows of seats at the back of the floor — was packed with an audience of adoring fans who were in for a treat as van Etten unfurled a 90-minute show that put everything out on stage and left nothing in the shadows.
Van Etten and her band took the stage at about 9:00 and quickly got down to business with a three-song set from her most recent album Are We There, before reaching all the way back to 2010’s Epic for a nicely paced version of “Save Yourself.”
When van Etten finally addressed the crowd, she seemed almost apologetic, saying she “wasn’t having having a very good day,” prompting a wave of adulation from the audience. “It’s got nothing to do with you and I’ve got a great band,” she said. “Sometimes you just have a bad day. Give me a couple of songs and I’ll be much better.”
While the admission may have been admirable, it wasn’t necessary. If this was a “bad day,” it was impossible to tell. Van Etten’s voice was bright and clear and the band seemed to be in fine form. They certainly were by the end of the set, when the killer rock jam of “Serpents” did a nice job of taking all of that crowd energy and pushing it out straight through the amps.
The 90-minute set the band played was nicely paced, building to a mid-show crescendo with “Don’t Do It,” before bringing the tempo down and building back up to “Serpents,” a song that demonstrates solid guitar rock skills.
On a side note, van Etten and her crew deserve credit for producing that killer sound in a room that can be notoriously difficult. The concrete walls at the Rickshaw mean a lot of reverb and muddy bass. The last show I saw there was the Cave Singers, and I couldn’t make out a single lyric for the entire duration. If van Etten was, in fact, having a bad day it didn’t show through the soundboard. Her crew has actually elevated my expectations for a venue where I’ve often excused mediocre sound as part of the character of the place, and I owe them a thank-you for that.
“This song is about therapy,” the artist said while introducing a mid-set song, “but I feel like you’re all my therapists tonight.” This nicely summed up the feeling of a show that saw van Etten’s highly confessional moody folk rock sound delivered to a happy audience. On stage, she comes across as an authentic, honest performer. There doesn’t appear to be a façade to hide behind: her affection for her band is obvious. Everybody involved in the show — from lighting to the merchandise booth to the band — received a thank you from the stage at some point. A shout out to the previous (and much smaller) Media Club and Biltmore venues she’s played in Vancouver was a nice acknowledgement to the fans that have followed the trajectory of her career, too.
With great sound, solid material, and a talented band, there’s only one regret: I’ve missed van Etten’s last couple of shows in Vancouver due to conflicts. Not a mistake I’m likely to make again. She’s an engaging, warm live performer of the best sort. Make sure to catch her next visit wherever you are.
Sharon van Etten’s latest album Are We There can be ordered on iTunes but it’s also available on vinyl at your local independent record store. There’s a limited edition clear vinyl version that’s still available at van Etten’s shows, but seems to be sold out online. She’s playing the Winnipeg Folk Festival this weekend (lucky Winnipeg) and then bouncing between Europe and North America for the rest of the year. Complete tour dates are on her web site.