Sharon Van Etten & Shearwater at Cedar Cultural Center, 2/18/12

Sharon Van Etten and Shearwater
The Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis
Saturday, February 18, 2012

View a slideshow from the concert here.

It's a rare and wonderful thing to have a double-bill featuring artists who have both recently released superlative new albums. And that is just what the sold-out crowd at the Cedar Cultural Center got on Saturday night, as Sharon Van Etten and Shearwater both played riveting but entirely disparate sets. While Shearwater's boisterous performance soared within the intimate club, Van Etten's was far more restrained and somber, but was balanced nicely by Sharon's affable stage presence and her achingly beautiful material.

Austin, Texas' Shearwater opened the night with a rousing 50-minute set that showcased the warmer, more expansive songs found on the just-released Animal Joy. The group performed as a 5-piece on this evening (sadly without Thor Harris on drums, who recently toured with Swans), led by frontman Jonathan Meiburg's sweeping vocals and dexterous guitar work. The new songs all bristled with a raw urgency that was entirely captivating, as the band started strong and never really let up throughout their 11-song set.

Sharon Van Etten & Shearwater at Cedar Cultural Center, 2/18/12
Photo by Erik Hess

The title-track of the new album kicked things off powerfully, before "Castaways" swelled majestically within the small room. It would prove to be one of only two old songs played on the night (along with a rousing version of "Rooks"), as the rest of the set was dedicated solely to Animal Joy material. But the band have every right to be proud of these bold new songs, and that was clearly their focus throughout the evening.

The bluesy strut of "Dread Sovereign" was quite elegant, and after a rousing reception, Meiburg mentioned how nice it was to be back in Minneapolis, joking with us a bit by saying, "The last show we did here was next door at the 400 Bar. Have any of you ever been in their "dressing room?" In my mind, I always picture it as having an earthen floor even though I know it's made of concrete." 

A rollicking version of "You As You Were" featured Meiburg on keys, before he switched back to guitar for a jaw-dropping rendition of "Insolence," which was an incendiary highlight of their performance (and the best song played by either band throughout the night). Shearwater's tour manager joined the band on guitar and keys throughout the set, and he quipped, "I almost passed out during that song," to which Jonathan replied, "That's how you know it was good." Indeed it was, and thankfully the band didn't let up a bit, as both "Rooks" and a fiery version of "Immaculate" kept the momentum going as well as the crowd buzzing.

After the brooding "Run the Banner Down" allowed everyone a moment to catch their breath, the set ended with a strong three-song run that found the band hitting on all cylinders. "Pushing The River" featured an untamed, discordant finish, while Meiburg introduced a lively version of "Breaking the Yearlings" by asking, "Has anyone seen the video for this song? Good, because it's being taken down. It looked like a million cents while it was up." Shearwater closed things out with the simmering intensity of "Star of the Age," which also brings their new album to a finish. It was a grand, exuberant end to a wonderful performance, one which the band will surely try and build on when they open for St. Vincent at First Avenue in May.

The throng of fans who packed the Cedar pushed their way up close to the stage before Van Etten's set began, anxious to hear songs from her exquisite new record, Tramp, for the first time. The Brooklyn based songwriter was backed by a three-piece for this performance, with whom she joked playfully throughout the set. After a tentative version of "Leonard" opened up the show, the band settled some initial sound issues and began to hit their stride on a stirring version of "Warsaw." After a lengthy ovation from her adoring audience, Van Etten told the crowd, "Happy Saturday. I hope none of you had to work today." And, after a few people told her they called in sick to work, she joked, "It's the hooky crowd. I'm into it."

A passionate rendition of "Save Yourself" quickly followed, which really got the crowd showering Van Etten with praise, so much so that she said, "I should have brought a recorder out here and said, 'All right, start complimenting me,' and then listen to it when I'm having a bad day." It was a decidedly loose performance, with Sharon joking with both her band and the crowd so much that she had to remind herself at one point in the show, "Oh yeah, you guys paid money to see this." And while that unguarded personality certainly brought some levity to her rather subdued songs, it also detracted from the flow and emotional impact.

Each song was augmented by films projected on a large screen behind the stage, which only added to the evocative images conjured up by Van Etten's vivid, candid lyrics. Both "Don't Do It" and "Serpents" were stunning, and showed what the band is capable of when they do away with the distractions. Van Etten told us that she would be back to Minneapolis soon for a forthcoming First Avenue show (and indeed her August 4th date at the club was announced the following day), allowing fans who were shut out of this sold-out show the chance to see her perform.   

The main set drew to a close with two decidedly solemn but still deeply affecting numbers, "I'm Wrong" and "Joke Or A Lie," both of which featured Jonsi-like guitar work from Doug Keith. The band eventually returned for a two-song encore that kept with the casual nature of the rest of the show, as the group had to restart a version of "Life Of His Own," which eventually managed to be quite moving. The set ended with Sharon playing a harmonium on a tender rendition of "Love More" which closed out the evening in a tranquil, moving manner that left everyone swooning.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I came into the evening excited to hear both Shearwater and Sharon Van Etten play their new songs, and even though I thought Sharon's set was lovely, I felt Shearwater ended up stealing the show.

The Crowd: A good cross-section of the Current's recent member-drive.

Overheard In The Crowd: "What was the name of that song you just played?" -- Immediately after Shearwater simply slayed on an explosive version of "Insolence."

Random Notebook Dump: You're likely not going to see as strong a double-bill in this city until Shearwater opens for St. Vincent at First Ave. in May.

Shearwater's Setlist:

Animal Life


Dread Sovereign

You As You Were




Run The Banner Down

Pushing The River

Breaking The Yearlings

Star Of The Age


Sharon Van Etten Setlist:



Save Yourself


Don't Do It

Magic Cords


Give Out

All I Can

I'm Wrong

Joke Or A Lie

Life Of His Own (Encore)

Love More (Encore)

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