All photography by Marcos Dominguez González
It was Sharon Van Etten‘s first time in Madrid on Thursday, though by her presence on stage it seemed like she might have been lifelong friends with those in attendance. Despite the show starting forty-five minutes after it had been scheduled to – there was a personal apology from the singer during the set – Van Etten and her (excellent) backing band more than made up for it, giving the audience a thrilling hour and fifteen minutes in which she demonstrated not only her (many) musical talents, but also a great personality.
As people found their seats in the intimate Teatro Lara in downtown Madrid there was a bit of restlessness in the air due to the late start, many knowing they’d have to be up early the next day. As soon as the band came on stage, though, all that was forgotten. The singer, visibly excited to be there, gave a short introduction, attempting to use the Spanish she knew, before hitting things off with “All I Can”, a highlight from this year’s excellent Tramp. It was a solid start to the show, which continued with “Warsaw” and “Save Yourself”, It was towards the end of the end of the latter – a standout from 2010′s Epic – that I realized just how good everything sounded, partially due to the venue’s good natural sound, partially due to an attentive sound-man, but mostly because of the band’s mastery of their craft.
The three musicians – two of them multi-instrumentalists - that accompanied Van Etten on the stage demonstrated an incredible chemistry with each other and with their instruments, each knowing exactly what their place was. They also really helped to flesh out the songs from Van Etten‘s previous material, making them sound bigger, bolder and quite frankly better. The songs from Epic - “Peace Signs”, “Love More” (saved for the encore), “Don’t Do It” and the aforementioned “Save Yourself” benefited from the extra instrumentation. I say past material, but really it was only her 2010 effort that got attention. Van Etten only played one song from her debut, Because I Was In Love, but the intimate rendition – the rest of the band abandoned the stage – more than made up for it, as it was probably the night’s most touching moment.
Tramp was very much the star of the show, though, and she chose to explore it through its best cuts. She played over half of the album, which allowed her to display her ability and creating swells and builds. “Kevin’s”, “Give Out” and “Leonard”, inspired after she ripped Leonard Cohen off “on accident” in an attempt to make right, all sounded great, but it was really “Serpents” (“the first song she ever wrote on an electric guitar”) which made the night spectacular. Her accompanying keyboardist Heather Woods Broderick started things off by layering vocals on top of each other as the guitar built and the calculated aggression in the track come off beautifully. “I’m Wrong” was chosen to close off the night (temporarily), and the bliss of distortion which it built to presented a side to the singer that we’re yet to see. It was as if she was letting loose all the emotions she had reserved in her songs and releasing the pain singing them night after night must bring.
After thanking everyone again for stopping by, to which the audience reacted enthusiastically, the band left the stage momentarily, returning again for a one song encore. “Love More”, which she introduced through its Spanish title (“Ama más”). It felt a bit underwhelming, to be honest, after the one-two punch of “Serpents” and “I’m Wrong”, but it fit the night like a glove. In her recordings it was already evident that Sharon Van Etten puts her heart and soul into her songs – sometimes quite literally – and live she’s relaying her pain directly to us. And in the end all we can do is just “love more”.