It’s been ten years since singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten released ‘Epic’ – a thoughtful, nuanced record which documents the LA-based musician regaining her confidence and rebuilding her life in the aftermath of an abusive relationship.
Personally and professionally, it’s a significant record for Van Etten; on ‘Epic’ she worked with a band for the first time, transforming the sparse, simple folk of her 2009 debut album ‘Because I Was in Love’ into something warmer, and more full-blooded. Making ‘Epic’ was also an important part of the artist’s personal healing process. In a moving preamble before tonight’s show, she’s visibly emotional, describing the process as her “learning how to let people in again, and how to move forward.”
Tonight’s show is also a love letter to independent music venues. It takes place in Zebulon, the LA venue which Van Etten credits with providing her with a support network, introducing her to her band members and to a wider musical community (including TV On The Radio’s Kyp Malone, one of her earliest champions). The performance was recorded last summer, when things looked particularly bleak for the music industry, and throughout, this seems to weigh heavily Van Etten’s shoulders. “It’s been hard for independent venues, it’s been hard for musicians” she tells the non-existent crowd, her voice cracking with emotion.
Backed by a full band, and dressed all in black apart from an enviable pair of gold cowboy boots, Van Etten plays ‘Epic’ in its entirety, almost without pause. Live, her voice is flawless – rich, velvety and expressive, it is capable of imparting a great deal of emotional heft. One of most impressive things about ‘Epic’ is just how many musical modes it manages to tackle across its seven tracks. And her voice is the glue which makes this possible, capable of sounding gentle and breezy on the country-tinged ‘One Day’, and coolly stern on admonishing opener ‘A Crime.’
It’s difficult not to feel a little sad that the anniversary of ‘Epic’ – a record which is testament to the power of human connection and collaboration – must be celebrated in isolation. But ‘Epic’ is also a record which celebrates resilience. This is no more apparent than on gorgeous, ruminative closer ‘Love More.’ Building from a single, brittle harmonium note to a transcendent wash of sound, it’s a track which describes responding to fear and pain with renewed resolve to love. And in a difficult time, what could be a better message than that?
Sharon Van Etten played:
Don’t Do It