Within a two-year timespan, Brooklyn-based Sharon Van Etten has released two albums, toured and collaborated with the National, and contributed to a number of other artists' albums. Quite impressive for someone who writes songs alone in a basement.
Last night at the Beachland Tavern, Van Etten crafted a cozy platform for her beautiful voice — both fragile and commanding — out of minor chord arpeggios on her guitar. That was only the first two songs, culled from her debut, Because I Was in Love.
She confessed some tour fatigue (she's been on the road for seven weeks straight) and dude fatigue from traveling in a van with three guys. Then she introduced her band, who helped propel her heartbroken songs out of the basement.
The affection from the relatively small but decidedly awestruck audience wasn’t out of the ordinary, but a folk singer-songwriter of Van Etten's stature doesn’t usually warrant super-fandom. Everything came together nicely, from the authoritative stomp of “Peace Signs” to the resentful yet resigned lilt of “Consolation Prize” to new material that worked in a similar dynamic as last year's Epic.
Before Van Etten dished out doleful harmonium for her final song “Love More,” she agreed to fake leaving the stage and return for an encore. Refusing silly requests of “Thriller” and R. Kelly, she settled on a solo cover of Blaze Foley’s “Ooh Love.”
Both opening acts were from Cleveland: Mike Uva & the Bad Eyes boasted standup bass and some fair folk before Uno Lady looped operatic vocals to create a dizzying sound. The novelty of Uno Lady’s impressive vocals wore thin after a few songs, but she might do well by adding another musician or two into the mix.
If you missed Van Etten this time around, she’ll be back in Cleveland by the end of the month opening for Iron & Wine. —Michael Tkach