Published Nov 12, 2010New Jersey via Brooklyn, NY's Sharon Van Etten is not a menacing figure on stage. Armed only with an electric guitar, she isn't the tallest girl, and when the light hit her eyes during her first ever appearance in Vancouver, the awkward banter started flowing. Yet, when she sings, the carries the conviction of a young Joan Baez (without the incessant vibrato) or Cat Power, and her bashful jokes and cracked smiles begin to reveal the naked truth of her performance.
Sharon was present as an artist, engaging the audience on a deeply personal level through her humble, profusely complimentary, unabashedly honest disposition. In effect, she made the somewhat drawn-out tuning sessions between songs a big part of the charm in seeing her, almost as much as her strong, emotive vocal work. Every eye in the place was glued to her as she moved from guitar to harmonium for a rendition of "Love More" that was every bit as powerful as the version on her critically acclaimed sophomore album, Epic, released by Ba Da Bing earlier in 2010.
In contrast to Etten's style and demeanour, the unearthly, Gilbert O'Sullivan-like voice of José González bequeathed a more sombre, serious mood. Almost tinny, but with a hint of depression, his ethereal vocals and acoustic guitar consistently found the sweet spot in the middle of his five-piece touring band. Throughout selections from the band's 2005 EP and long-awaited 2010 debut album, Fields, their downtempo indie grooves, interspersed with progressive rock-outs, worked the capacity crowd into a sweaty, heaving mass.
José didn't engage the audience directly all that much, or even stand up, instead choosing to put his energy into the sound. With the Zero 7 collaborator and subsequent rising star's talented, well-rehearsed band fleshing out incarnations stunningly similar to those heard on González's solo albums, they managed to summon the striking solemnity of Swedish fields ravaged by the elements of winter. In the live setting, they produced something well beyond that which can be heard on Fields, delivering tangible passion with their astonishingly complex arrangements.