Sharon Van Etten  had yet to play a note before someone in the crowd shouted forth a marriage proposal toward the stage. The term “adoring fans” might sound generic, but it’s apt in describing the audience at Van Etten’s first of a pair of sold-out shows at The Independent  last night [Sun/29 -- the second is tonight]. For just short of two hours they sang along and showered the 33-year old singer with love at every chance they got.
“You guys seem really…happy,” Van Etten said, aware of the mismatch, “because my songs can be really dark.”
That certainly may be true, but Van Etten wasn’t fooling anybody: She was easily the happiest person in the room all night. Upbeat, droll, and genuinely down-to-earth, Van Etten threaded her fantastic 14-song set with banter and sass throughout the evening, inciting her fans to ever more gleeful misbehavior.
Leaning heavily on songs from her recently released new album – Are We There – Van Etten showcased the new work in front of a deft four-piece band that provided lush and layered compositions on tracks like “Taking Chances” and “Break Me.” This new material carried the show forward with little lull, embraced by the fans with as much enthusiasm as the older songs (“Serpents” or “Don’t Do It”), possibly because Van Etten herself appears equally enamored singing them. Even still, her performance of “All I Can” (from her 2012 album Tramp) may have been the evening’s surefire highlight, carving Van Etten’s niche somewhere in the orbit of Suzanne Vega and Leslie Feist.
But still, that juxtaposition is there. How do those “really dark” songs render such a jovial atmosphere? After all, Van Etten’s bio infers that her music was generated as a means to cope through some tough times. And if so, her presence and performance on Sunday night would give the impression that she has emerged successfully…with a small catalogue of wonderful songs under her belt, no less.
And that is where it gets really interesting. Before the last song of the night – “Every Time the Sun Comes Up ” – Van Etten encouraged the crowd to sing along, because, as she put it, “This is the one fun song on the album.” And it really is, as cheeky as it is soulful (“We broke your glasses/but covered our asses”). As the last song on the album, it leaves you the impression that Van Etten’s next move might be her most interesting one yet. Maybe dark…but playfully dark. Less Joshua Tree and more Achtung Baby.
As the last song of the show, it punctuated the evening with the feeling that Van Etten is on the ascent, destined to play rooms much larger the next time she comes to town. And maybe that is the answer to why she seems so happy.