Concert review: Sharon Van Etten at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Mass.
After an enjoyable sun-filled day in Western Massachusetts, the air outside the Iron Horse Music Hall Friday night felt crisp. However, the chill felt by those huddling outside on the sidewalk wasn’t just the fault of the change in temperature. Amidst talk of politics, schoolwork and even the benefits of mint-flavored toothpicks, there was a palpable sense of excitement shared by the lucky concert-goers who anxiously awaited the venue’s second show of the evening – singer/ songwriter Sharon Van Etten with opener Lady Lamb the Beekeeper (see photo at right).
Taking the stage at almost a quarter after 10, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper (aka Aly Spaltro or “Aly from Maine”) didn’t disappoint the crowd who had hurried in from the cold. By opening her set with the half-acapella and half-electric number “Up in the Rafters/ Bird Balloons,” she quickly silenced the chatter from the bar through just the sheer power of her voice, which at times appeared to resemble the throaty rasp of the late Janis Joplin.
Though playing solo, Spaltro ably held the room fixated with her ace guitar playing and unassuming stage demeanor. While many of the tracks during her too brief set featured the heavy use of bass string orientated melodies, the true highlight came during the finale “Crane Your Neck,” where a series of bluesy guitar squeals came together with a hair-raising long note to thrill the audience into grateful applause. A fine start to be sure, but one whose reception would only grow as the headliner of the night took her turn in the spotlight.
Popularly known as a musician whose songs deal with emotional heartbreak and sour relationships, Sharon Van Etten took the stage to cheers from the adoring crowd at shortly after 11. Performing for the first time in the Paradise City as a trio with her backing band Doug Keith (bass) and Ben Ward (drums), Van Etten opened her set with a soft finger-picked ballad before quickly seeking to bridge the gap between herself and the audience. “Feel free to come closer,” she said. “I feel like there’s a void out there.”
Taking her words to heart, the floor of the Iron Horse soon filled with excited fans who were rewarded with a rocking take of the song “Peace Signs.” Indeed, much of the material Van Etten chose to perform was of the up-tempo variety with her and her band covering most of the tracks from their recent release “Epic” as well as some new tunes.
“That song wasn’t about a real tornado,” she said after one such number.
“It was a metaphor,” shouted a fan in response.
“Ding, ding, ding. You get the prize,” Van Etten joked. “I don’t know what it will be, but I do have a real nickel in my pocket…not a bag though. Ha, college joke.”
Unexpectedly, such moments of audience interaction provided frequent bouts of laughter between songs. Whether discussing the existence of casinos in Mississippi, her embarrassing dance moves or even how her own breath smelled, Van Etten’s unique charm shined brightly and made her show seem more like a casual gathering of friends than a full-fledged concert.
Elsewhere, the addition of additional musicians on stage helped bring many numbers some new-found depth and even punch. Far from being a complete rock act, Van Etten and company did manage to have the crowd at their feet swaying back and forth during most songs and the joyous reception at times appeared to surprise them. For example, after strumming only a handful of chords for the standout track “One Day,” Van Etten was greeted with raucous cheers that made her do a double take.
“You guys actually know this song?” she said with a grin poking out from beneath her Karen O inspired haircut.
While only performing a set that came in at just a shade over an hour, Van Etten saved perhaps her most enchanting moment for the evening’s conclusion. Trading her guitar for an accordion, she led her group through the haunting slow waltz of “Love More.” There was no encore. There didn’t need to be. She had worked her magic to perfection, but then again, who would have expected anything less?
Also, don’t forget that today is Record Store Day. To check out possible sales and events near you please visit http://www.recordstoreday.com.