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Live Shots

SXSW Showcase Reviews

Reviewed by Doug Freeman, March 16, 2012, Music

Sharon Van Etten

Stubb's, Wednesday, March 14

With Fiona Apple setting the stage for Sharon Van Etten, the Stubb's opening block threatened to be a crash course in performance anxiety. Both rose above, yet whereas Apple buried her uncertainty in furiously unsettled outbursts, Van Etten handled the amphitheater crowd by turning inward, her rawness more an exposed bone than frantic slashing. Though starting nearly 30 minutes late, the Brooklyn singer proved calm and composed while still broiling with a pain and passion pulsing on opener "All I Can" from her new third LP, Tramp, on Jagjaguwar. With a backing trio and backing vocals bolstering her delicate intensity for the big stage, Van Etten tumbled trancelike into higher harmonies on "In Line" while the heavy percussion on "Warsaw" and "Major Chords" coursed emphatic, the latter writhing in darkly low moans that echoed Apple's earlier set. The acoustic turn of "Kevin's" managed to retain an impressive intimacy, and closer "Serpents" unleashed a wave of heady, hard-bitten turmoil like an emerging bruise, swollen and sore by the end. If last South by Southwest saw Van Etten impress in the clubs with the closeness of Epic, she's since harnessed her deeply personal style for the larger audience without losing the spark of connection and confidentiality that propels her songs.

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