Junip and Sharon Van Etten
November 7, 2010
Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis
When Junip and Sharon Van Etten were announced as touring mates to play a Cedar gig a few months back, I could think of no better venue to suit the heart-breaking sounds that both artists create. Junip fits the atmospheric, more cryptic version of the story while Sharon and crew pine away with straight-forward emotion, reminiscing on lessons learned from the past. The Cedar can sometimes feel like a hollow cave inside its main room, but I believe this is why it continues to be one of the Twin Cities' best stages for live music: it strips away any preconceived attitude and history and lets the artists who play before you make a different story, if only for the night.
[jump] Critic's bias right off the bat, Sharon Van Etten's Epic and Junip's Fields are among my top albums of the year. There is something about this type of folk rock steeped in rhythm and literate lyrics that fits well in the Minnesota climate, especially as autumn begins to take hold. This is music for the change of seasons and the change of attitude that all of us seem to experience as things get colder.
I have been a fan of Sharon since the solo days, but she really comes alive with a backing band, even if that only signifies a simple drumkit and bass; each part ends up doing wonders for her intense strumming and wavering voice. You would almost feel like her songs about the continuous regression of love and failed relationships would hinder her or any on-stage banter that might exist. Instead, she reviles and laughs at it all, illustrating that the music has helped her get past anything she has experienced prior. Playing most of the new album as well as some one-woman numbers from her previous effort, the audience became more enraptured as she continued through her set, cracking light at some of her verses or the constant tuning of her guitar. Her songs are not as complex as Junip's, but they are just as fierce. She has something to prove and she does it each time. Additionally, kudos to her as a musician for shouting out the Cedar as a venue we should feel blessed to have.
Junip seems to be what Swede Jose Gonzalez is going to be focusing on for a long while. Signing to Mute is one indication of this, the home of Liars and Goldfrapp, not to mention the large amount of quick publicity he has garnered with this band which is not a side-project. It was formed long before Gonzalez did any solo work and released that ultra famous version of The Knife's "Heartbeats."
Curious to see at the Cedar last night was how accessible Junip's sound really is. On record, the kraut-folk is slightly polarizing, but it transitioned very well into a live setting and made it seem less impressive than it really is. This is probably because Gonzalez and his band don't like to steep in pride on their unique sound, but instead want to give a straight-forward example of it without tricks. Considering the band got heavy spins on Radio K, The Current, and Cities 97, it was very cool to see a demographic at the show which spanned from chic young adult to older bohemian and even people pushing into their dignified 60s, all of whom seemed to know most of the words to every song. It was a spacey set, high points including "Rope & Summit," "Howl," and "Off Point," all of which highlight the band in their best moments, those tunes of which are faster, extremely metrical, and spin out of control into jam band-like compositions by the end.
Gonzalez proves time and again that he is one of our best arrangers; the amount of polish on his songs is extremely evident, yet he manages to deviate from the structure to keep you guessing, something to appreciate as artists these days increasingly get caught up in sounding exactly like their record in a live setting.