Sharon Van Etten had solidified her position as one of the queens of indie rock long before now. But her latest album Remind Me Tomorrow, with its sensual blend of folk, pop, new wave and electronics is rightly taking the singer/songwriter to a new plateau. We were happy to live stream her first-ever appearance on ACL, with Tomorrow as its centerpiece.
Her four-piece band arrived onstage first, setting up the atmospheric intro of “Jupiter 4.” Wearing a sparkling silver suit, Van Etten took her place in front of the mic, opening her golden throat to give incandescent life to the lines “It’s true that everyone would like to have met a love so real.” Then drummer Jorge Balbi kicked out an insistent beat, part disco, part new wave, to signal the irrepressible RMT single “Comeback Kid,” as Van Etten rocked it like the love child of Patti Smith and the Motels’ Martha Davis. She brought similar gravitas to the throbbing “No One’s Easy to Love,” a tune driven by Devin Hoff’s insistent bass. Donning a Gibson hollowbody guitar, Van Etten mentioned that she and the band were happy to end their tour where it began, before strumming into “One Day,” an older tune that garnered enthusiastic cheers. She applied her powerful voice to the country-tinged “Tarifa,” imbuing it with smoldering power and ending with a quick strum of Charles Damski’s guitar. Van Etten replaced her guitar with a set of chimes, as Heather Woods Broderick’s buzzy synthesizer ushered in the moody “Memorial Day.”
Electric guitar took center stage for the riff for the poppy “You Shadow,” though Van Etten’s voice easily pulled the spotlight. She stepped to the keyboard for the synth ‘n’ organ-heavy “Malibu,” which twisted California pop to her own darker purposes. On came another guitar as the band put the song through a grinding coda, with no pause before the intense, thudding rocker “Hands.” The band left the stage as she sat at the piano for a stunning solo rendition of Sinead O’Connor’s “Black Boys On Mopeds,” a song she noted “was made during another time of unrest, but is sadly still relevant today.” After that emotional powerhouse it was time for something more upbeat, delivered via the deceptive “Seventeen,” the poppy sheen of which was disrupted by Van Etten’s angry shouts, to the audience’s delight. She took a minute to praise and introduce her band and crew before going into the stately folk rocker “Everytime the Sun Comes Up,” another tune from Are We There. Van Etten and band ended the main set with the beautiful anthem “Stay,” to major applause.
The crowd clearly hadn’t had enough, so the musicians came back, with Van Etten back at the piano for the elegant, emotionally fraught “I Told You Everything” (“no changing my mind”). She re-donned her guitar for the last song of the night, the pounding anthem “All I Can,” from her 2012 breakthrough Tramp. It was a fine way to cap a strong show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs as early next year as part of our Season 45 on your PBS station.