I once watched an NPR video of Sharon Van Etten accompanied by a female backup singer. I didn’t know what Van Etten looked like, and before she started playing I assumed she would be the smiling, tall, charismatic woman on the left and not the mousy, nervous-looking creature on the right. I was wrong. But once that shy little woman started singing, I was completely drawn in.
Everything I’ve read about Van Etten portrays her as quiet and distant, the kind of performer who needs her audience to come find her. It’s a rare artist who can get away with that in today’s distracted marketplace, but she pulls it off. She quietly coos something plain, such as, “One day, I’ll be a better writer/ I’ll make every face that I’ll never perfectly phrase” (from the song “Much More Than That”), and her voice conveys a lifetime’s worth of pain and self-doubt...with just the slightest bit of hope to sweeten it. As you listen, it’s as if you’re seeing a person’s every fault and appreciating the inherent beauty at the same time.
On paper, Van Etten does something you’ve heard a thousand times before: she’s a folk singer-songwriter spilling her guts over an acoustic guitar. But any preconception you might have falls away once you hear her sing. Van Etten’s second release, last year’s epic (the lower-case title is her idea of a joke, I guess) found her trying somewhat more elaborate arrangements than she had in the past, and she’s now touring with a full band. But her voice is still the star.
Little Scream and Drew Andrews also perform.
SHARON VAN ETTEN: Soda Bar, Thursday, March 24, 7 p.m. 619-255-7224. $10.