LIVE REVIEW: Sharon Van Etten + Jana Hunter @ El Rey Theatre, LA 6/28/14
On the heels of her winning new LP Are We There, Sharon Van Etten brought her band to the West Coast, doing business at LA’s’ El Rey Theatre. She relied heavily on the touring band for the recording, and the band (including Heather Woods Broderick, Zeke Hutchins, and Doug Keith) paid the bill back in full, more than living up to the vote of faith, and with the set list heavily skewed to Are We There, the onstage chemistry was palpable.
“Afraid of Nothing” was the perfect opener, with its slow build sucking the crowd in and laying the groundwork for first single, “Taking Chances”, an ode to finding the mystic in everyday life, and one of her more straightforward pop achievements. “Tarifa”, while missing its distinctive southern soul horns from the studio version, glowed under the warm attention of the band. Van Etten rewarded the patient, dipping into her songbook to break out “Save Yourself” from epic. After fitting in a delicate “Nothing Will Change”, and a charged “Break Me”, she returned to epic for a staggering take on “Don’t Do It” that was not only the point of the show where everything hit an extra level energy wise, but also served as a nice survey on just how far she and the band have come.
Returning to Are We There, “I Love You But I’m Lost” turned into a well-earned showcase for keyboardist and vocal foil Heather Woods Broderick, who also had family in attendance. “Vocal foil” somewhat undersells Woods Broderick’s part in the proceedings. It’s more like alter ego/greek chorus, as her singing is not just “backup”, but adding new dimensions. With the harrowing “You Know Me Well”, liftoff was achieved and, playing the hole card, Van Etten dropped in “Serpents” from her stellar last LP, Tramp, and got a rowdy response from the front row. It was the perfect setup to finish off the main set with “Your Love Is Killing Me”, the centerpiece of the new LP, and perhaps her finest, both musically and emotionally to date.
Coming back for the encore, alone initially, she did a stark reading of “I Know”, then brought everyone back for Tramp’s “All I Can”. For all the attendant heaviness of the songs, the big selling point of a Van Etten performance is getting to see the other, goofier side of her personality that doesn’t always surface on vinyl. In between pimping her self-deprecating merch, (Tissues!, Umbrellas!), to telling shaggy-dog tour confessions, to the heart-warming touch of actually including the sound person in the band acknowledgements. In performance, you get the true measure of the woman.
Jana Hunter (of Lower Dens) took the opening honors, armed with guitar and laptop, and wove a challenging aural soundscape. Her dark and moody works were the perfect setup for the show to come, and while it would be easy to tag as dour bedroom-core, Hunter had the last laugh, sonically disemboweling Hall and Oates “Maneater”, and giving it a new life.
Check out a full photo gallery of Van Etten and Hunter HERE.