'These Songs Aren't Exactly Veiled': Sharon Van Etten Gets Raw at Warsaw

Kari Devereaux for the Village Voice
Sharon Van Etten sells out Greenpoint's Warsaw.
Back when she was bellowing songs from 2010's epic and sipping wine out of a coffee mug, someone called out a request from Sharon Van Etten's nimble acoustic-driven first album during one of her sets, and she blushed at the recognition: "No one knows about that," she dismissed.

Over four years later, Van Etten is kicking off another world tour in support of 2014's Are We There with back-to-back sold-out shows in New York, and everyone at Warsaw in Greenpoint last night knew the songs from the record and those that came before. In May, when we asked her about the upcoming tour, Van Etten likened the experience to therapy: "The depth behind each song is something I'm going to be exploring every night."

In some ways, watching her perform last night was like sitting in on her therapy session — that is, if therapy included a four-piece rock band and blinding spotlights in the ballroom of a venue whose tagline is "where pierogies meet punk."

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John Cale on Sharon Van Etten: "That Pretty Thing Isn't All Sweet"


Over a bottle of red wine, Sharon Van Etten opened up to us about her hard-won triumph of a record, Are We There, and the stories behind the songs that detailed the breaking of her open heart. A thousand words weren't enough to dive into Are We There in full, so we've got a few extra tidbits about the record, Sharon's process, and some thoughts from her friends--and idols--about why the prolific performer is at a pivotal moment in her career.

See also: Are We There Glimpses at Sharon Van Etten's Growing Pains

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The Hard-Won Opus: Are We There Glimpses at Sharon Van Etten's Growing Pains

Dusdin Condren
Moving on: Sharon Van Etten
When your muses and your demons spring from the same passion, you've got two choices: give in or grit your teeth. You cut your losses with one in favor of the other, or you hold your ground and pray that you're the one still standing at the end of the war between the two.

Sharon Van Etten chose the latter approach with Are We There. She's not only standing, but towering above the conflicts and obstacles that had previously shackled the strength of her own voice. Ballad by ballad, beneath a spotlight on a nightly basis, she's emotionally excavating the toughest songs she's ever written. Or at least that's what she's prepared to do, anyway.

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Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Sharon Van Etten - Beacon Theatre - 3/30/13

Jason Bergman

Better Than: Happiness.

About halfway through his band's set on Saturday night, Nick Cave took a moment. He'd just finished a roaring rendition of "From Her to Eternity," the thumping, chaotic song from the Bad Seeds 1984 debut album of the same name. This was the Australian's final evening at the Beacon Theatre, finishing a three-night stay full of violent, jazz-tinged orchestral renditions of the band's entire repertoire. Backed by Sharon Van Etten (who opened) and Shilpa Ray, a string ensemble, and the Harlem Voices (a children's choir), the musician spent the previous 45 minutes bouncing around the stage, gliding back and forth like modern day vampire. Then the eccentric singer paused at center stage. He pointed at someone in the front row.

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One Night Only: The Velvet Underground Pay Tribute to Nico and Allen Ginsberg

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Tonight, fans of the Velvet Underground will get to see their idols pay tribute to two of their most revered friends and collaborators--just not on the same stage. At Housing Works, Lou Reed will be celebrating the vinyl and digital re-issue of Allen Ginsberg's FIRST BLUES. Across the East River, John Cale will be kicking off his three-night run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with a sold-out tribute to Nico, which will also feature Sharon Van Etten, the Magnetic Fields, and Kim Gordon, among others. Torn on which show you'll hit later? Here's a brief preview of each, along with a few educated guesses as to which songs you'll get to hear Reed and Cale wax poetic on this evening.
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Live: Sharon Van Etten Warms A Very Receptive Mercury Lounge

Luis Paez-Pumar
Sharon Van Etten
Mercury Lounge
Wednesday, January 18

Better than: Standing outside in that unbearable wind.

It's almost a New York City cliche at this point, but it holds up: there are few things better than tucking into a warm venue on a cold night in the city. It creates a sense of longing for more songs, more encores, more seconds enveloped in notes rather than winds. Last night at Mercury Lounge, Sharon Van Etten provided the warmth that the packed crowd of 250 so very badly needed.

One of the better features of Mercury Lounge is that the stage is low enough for the crowd to be almost level with the performers. (The playing field's even more level for those of us who are a bit taller.) This allowed Van Etten to keep a bit of banter going with the crowd, and to flash smiles at various audience memers—light touches that should not be underestimated, especially since she sings with a determined, almost trance-like demeanor. Between songs, she's a populist singer, worried about her self-described clumsiness and her audience's enjoyment. During songs, however? A meteor could crash into the venue and I'd be willing to bet that she finishes.

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Live: Beirut And Sharon Van Etten Beat The Rain At McCarren Park


Beirut w/ Sharon van Etten, Yellow Ostrich
McCarren Park
Friday, June 17

Better than: The rainout that at one point seemed likely.

It was hard to see Yellow Ostrich through all of the umbrellas when they first took the McCarren Park stage on Friday. By the time the band finished their first song, though, the umbrellas had been retracted and only a double rainbow to the north was keeping eyes off the Brooklyn three-piece, most notable for their use of multiple delay pedals to loop their vocals and instruments like trumpet or bari sax, or, as on the set's highlight "Daughters," all three on top of each other.

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Download Sharon Van Etten's Set Saturday Night At Bowery Ballroom

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Pic by Mike Benigno.
Sharon Van Etten's show Saturday night at Bowery Ballroom was both an intimate family affair and an acknowledgment that the once-cultish folkie is moving on to bigger, better things: One of those shows where everyone wants to sing along but they don't want to break the spell. Which makes it an ideal bootleg situation, actually; NYC Taper was there to capture the whole thing.

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Live: Sharon Van Etten Manages Not To Soil Herself At Bowery Ballroom

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It's OK if your eyes well up a little. Pics by Mike Benigno, more below.
Sharon Van Etten/Sebastian Blanck/The War on Drugs
Bowery Ballroom
Saturday, January 8

Better Than: Another night of "Love More" on repeat

Around 7 o'clock Saturday night, shortly before I had to catch a D train and head to Bowery Ballroom, I admit that I didn't want to go. I'd been excited for this show before that, but right then, as I lay in bed, preparing myself with another spin through Brooklyn folkie Sharon Van Etten's second album, Epic, my mood began to align with the record's, and the idea of stepping outside my apartment -- or even out of my bed -- started to seem like a drag. I managed to do it, though, and I'm glad I did.

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The Best Local Music Of 2010: Our Annual Mixtape Starring Sweet Bulbs, Marnie Stern, Sharon Van Etten, and Special Guest Hannibal Buress

Yes In My Backyard is a semiweekly column showcasing MP3s from new and emerging local talent. This is a compilation of 2010's best local music, lovingly curated by YIMBY columnist Christopher R. Weingarten. See last year's tape here.

R.I.P. Chris Weingarten's old blue trucker hat. Photo by Rebecca Smeyne.
Have you heard the one about how the recession is over? Uh, don't tell it to New York City's musical community. While our center-of-the-universe assembly line of hype puttered on unabated, 2010's biggest up-and-comer success stories were actually beamed from the outer limits of the five boroughs--Titus Andronicus (Glen Rock, NJ), Screaming Females (New Brunswick, NJ), Phantogram (Saratoga Springs, NY), Real Estate (Ridgewood, NJ)--places where money can go to tour vans instead of landlords, where musicians aren't paying $400 a month for the luxury of sharing a practice space with three other bands. The remaining New York City indie-crossovers all benefited from frugal one-man home-recording set-ups (Oneohtrix Point Never, Matthew Dear), stripped down line-ups (the Drums, Sleigh Bells, Matt & Kim) or simply embracing the idea that sounding mushy is smarter than buying new gear (Small Black).

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