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Heartbeat Review: Sharon Van Etten at Rhino's

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Sharon Van Etten - SUBMITTED PHOTO

Sharon Van Etten, The War on Drugs
Rhino's Youth Club
Sunday, April 1

This show was terrible. April Fools - this show was awesome (and also on April Fool's Day, during which I didn't make any jokes so I figured I'd make up for it now).

Sharon Van Etten and The War on Drugs stopped at SXSW during the Secretly Canadian showcase at Mohawks,. The War on Drugs, from what I can remember from my festival haze, played an energetic and engrossing set. A significant part of the culture of SXSW is about missing the bands' actual performances. There are so many people coming and going throughout each set that it seems almost an anomaly to stay for an entire set. The War on Drugs demanded to be seen during SXSW, and at this set at Rhino's, performed the same kind of (black?) magic. They are un-look-away-able.

I didn't see Van Etten down there, though. I've been spinning her track "Serpents" regularly since its release a few months ago. It's a wistful track full of atonal harmonies that keep you on the edge of your metaphorical (or real) seat while listening. At first, I didn't know why I was so attracted to the track. Then, I looked at the collaborators. Her latest album, Tramp, was produced and recorded by Aaron Dressner of The National, one of my favorite bands. Guest artists include Beirut's Zach Condon, Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner, Julianna Barwick, Walkmen's Matt Barrick, Aaron and Bryce Dressner and Doveman (Thomas Bartlett) - a veritable super crew of emotionally bare, literate rockers who dissect their relationships through song. Van Etten sings, "Serpents in my mind/I'm searching for your crimes." Besides reminding me of a particularly nasty episodes of Grey's Anatomy involving worms in the brain (you are all welcome for that link), Van Etten's track is equal parts delicate and passionate

I wasn't sure exactly how this moody soundscape would translate onstage, but Van Etten didn't disappoint. Although she engaged in some mildly odd crowd banter ("How many people got to sit in the grass today? One of you? Two of you?") that the crowd of mostly young guys absolutely ate up, Her voice shone against the backing of her band, and, although her lyrics and tracks are gloomy, she was endearingly grounded onstage.

"I don't like to go past 3 on my amp. Four seems aggressive," she remarked at one point, while adjusting her volume.

The War on Drugs seems like the kind of band that can be at once be compared to U2 and simultaneously really be upset about being compared to U2. Also, during one song, I closed my eyes and had the most intense Tom Petty vibe I've had since...actually listening to Tom Petty. But seriously, they are a really great band that seems to be gathering a huge momentum right now. I look forward to seeing what their third record will bring.


Sharon Van Etten - "Serpents"

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