Sharon Van Etten at the Cedar, 4/6/11


Sharon Van Etten April 6, 2010 Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis

Brooklyn-based Sharon Van Etten is a force to be reckoned with. Her show last night at the Cedar saw the audience moved and silenced by the folk artist whose talent and capacity for music is far greater than the categorical singer-songwriter.


To look at her, Van Etten is entirely unassuming. She is very small, mousy even, and the way she describes her songs to the audience can make those gorgeous folk songs of hers seem trite before they're heard. ("I wrote this song when I was in love," Van Etten sighs with a slight smirk, "so, so long ago.") But make no mistake--Van Etten is true talent, lauded for her efforts of her sophomore album, 2010's Epic, which offers up the wisdom and confidence of an indie-rocker with a soul for poetry. It helps that for her second album, Van Etten brought in a full band--a drummer and a guitarist--and has taken them on the road with her.

Van Etten's voice is the most remarkable instrument, deep as a canyon and expansive as a prairie, and fills the whole room with its unearthly majesty. The auditorium-esque Cedar had just the right acoustics for her, and Van Etten found an audience that was captivated by her ghostly sound.

When I first heard Sharon Van Etten, I had no idea who she was--in fact, I immediately thought I was listening to Joan Baez, and then if not Baez, another '70s folk rocker I had overlooked. Van Etten manages to sound at once like something out of time capsule--stripped down, simple folk songs, written like prose with heartfelt honesty--and like a musician that will simply transcend any generation or musical trend, because that voice of hers is so very extraordinary as it expands with every chord and then retracts.

Van Etten's set felt a lot shorter than it was (approximately 55 minutes), and at her encore, Van Etten thanked the crowd for clapping and asked if they wanted to hear anything particular. Gratefully, "For You" was immediately elected, followed by another, older original I couldn't place. If this round of touring and sophomore album are any indication, we will have much more of Sharon Van Etten to look forward to.


Critic's Bias: Sharon Van Etten had me hooked, line and sinker the first time I heard "One Day". It was all downhill from there. The Crowd: As always at the Cedar, a mix of young and old--all well-behaved and attentive (because I'm convinced it's impossible not to be well-behaved when inside the Cedar). Overheard in the Crowd: "I can't BELIEVE he's playing a SAW," said my friend of the saw player in the opening band Little Scream. Random Notebook Dump: On that note, Montreal's Little Scream was amazing. Frontwoman Laurel Sprengelmeyer was very Sharon Van Etten-esque, with the same kind of voice that takes up all the extra space, but throatier, with purposefully scratchy, hoarse growls that grew into ethereal wails and weaved in and out of the violin whine and warbled notes of the saw. I can't even begin to describe how fucking cool the saw was. It was like standing at the bottom of an ocean listening to a choir of mermaids. Oh my God, go look up this band immediately. For more photos: See our full slideshow by Tony Nelson.