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Monday, 02 April 2012 07:45

Concert review: Sharon Van Etten and the War on Drugs get up close and personal at the Luminary, Saturday, March 31

Concert review: Sharon Van Etten and the War on Drugs get up close and personal at the Luminary, Saturday, March 31 Kate McDaniel
Written by Amy Faerber

I'll be the first to admit that I was definitely 100% more interested in seeing the War on Drugs Saturday night at the Luminary Center for the Arts than headliner, Sharon Van Etten.

After all was heard and done though, my memories of last night's show will be dominated by Van Etten's voice, both smoky and clear, always confident and honest. In the middle of a tour promoting her third album, "Tramp," she brought some friends along -- Mr. Doug Keith played bass, Ms. Heather Woods Broderick lent her voice and a deft hand on the guitar and drummer, and Mr. Zeke Hutchins gave us thunder.

Dreamy. This is my initial gut reaction to the sound of the War on Drugs, who began the show over an hour later than originally announced. This is not to say that dreamy means light. Definitely not. There were moments when it sounded like the guitar was at one end of the tunnel and it was sending heavy notes bouncing and careening toward the other end. There were also marathon interludes where each instrument would stand its ground then graciously back off for its neighbor to come to the forefront. Their set was comprised of little mini epics; a cover of the Water Boys was very well received by the crowd.

Andrew Granduciel's voice has been described as Springsteenesque but Dylan's cadence came through more to me. But maybe the harmonica had something to do with that. The band's closer was a long, winding, tug of warm featuring a lone trumpet which was both melancholy and hopeful, a perfect segue to co-headliner Sharon Van Etten.

Van Etten is like that cool friend who moves away after high school and does some really awesome shit, shit that she always said she'd do, then comes back for a long weekend visit and is exactly the same cool friend you remember, only with better stories. She bantered with the crowd between songs, easily engaging in whatever random conversation happened to materialize. One guy in the audience persisted in asking both War on Drugs and Sharon Van Etten what type of cheese they were. War on Drug's lead singer, Adam Granduciel, played along announcing that he'd be gouda, but pronouncing it ‘how-da' for extra, dramatic effect. Sharon's response? Anything funky. Or dill havarti.

Banter between songs isn't really something that makes or breaks a show. Or is it? In this case, Sharon's chattiness made the concert space smaller at the Luminary and brought the audience in, as if we were all just hanging out in somebody's basement and a couple folks happened to start playing really amazing music. What also made the space smaller and more intimate was her voice. It filled the room like floating spirits reaching out to every single person and inviting them to come closer. Not in a creepy way; in a "Hi, my name is Sharon. Let's hang out and I'm going to sing some songs for you if you'd like" kind of way. Those spirits took form in the sound of her voice, which was controlled but her animated face hinted that she might have been channeling these beautiful sounds from another place.

She took the stage and played her first song solo, handing the audience her strong rolling voice without any filler. An arrow to the heart. I don't think my mind was playing tricks on me when I saw everyone takes a couple steps towards the stage in unison. Then her band came on to provide some depth to surround her. The drums were steady, slow and a perfect foil to her voice. Bass and guitar lead the journey from folk to rock, and even an auto harp she described as more of a synthesizer made an appearance. Her songs tend toward the serious, with themes of love, heartbreak and recovery prevalent. "Leonard," a track from "Tramp," was a standout for me. It was so sweet with notes of sadness and triumph.

Last night's show was personal. There was a connection Sharon Van Etten was able to make with the audience at the Luminary that was palpable and comfortable. It was obvious that a large number of people were devotees, singing along and yelling out requests. I was not among them as I waited for almost an hour to get in the door.

I am now.

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