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Before Sharon Van Etten releases her album Are We There next week, then embarks on a tour of European and American stages, she offered an intimate unveiling of new material at the Columbus Theater in Providence, RI on May 10th. Crammed into the tight upstairs theater space, Van Etten and her four-piece band confidently worked through the upcoming record. In only touching two songs off her 2012 opus, Tramp, the setlist reflected a musician who has soothed the serpents that previously fueled her art but with damning vulnerability.
Even as a dark pall remains over the songs, it was tempered with a smile, and Van Etten reveled in this contradiction all evening. Jazz-handing the interlude of “Your Love is Killing Me,” she then approached the mic and sang, “burn my skin so I won’t feel you.” Her protective stage persona, borne to contend with audience adulation, subsided with smiles and endearing banter. This comfort resulted in wonderful moments between Van Etten and her band. The band is grounded by Heather Woods Broderick, whose harmonizing vocals darken Van Etten’s melodies, and Doug Keith, a steadying influence on guitar as Van Etten played keyboard and omnichord for many of the new songs. These songs are strengthened by Darren Jessee on drums and Brad Cook on bass, whose riffs were most potently heard on “Break Me.”
Perhaps it was the birthday cake for harmonica maestro and concert MC Brian Minto that gave the night such a celebratory mood. Or maybe the number of Boston and NYC musicians and journalists who had made the pilgrimage to Providence for a first listen of unreleased songs. Nevertheless, even if the new record does not conclude existential pondering on prior albums, it marks a turning point. For Van Etten and the reverential gathering in the Columbus Theater, the question suggested by the album’s title, Are We There, was answered with an emphatic, yes.
Follow Sharon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sharonvanetten
Photos by Beth Doreian