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Archive for February, 2012

(Editor’s Note: This piece appears on The Bowery Presents The House List. Check it out here)

Sharon Van Etten looks different. She doesn’t usually wear dresses. And especially not heels. All her tattoos are visible: Two bold lines wrap around the flesh of her left forearm, a bird sits near her right biceps and a guitar’s sound hole and strings are on the tracks of her veins. In other words, she is exposed. But exposure is central to Van Etten’s music. Many singer-songwriters tap into heartbreak as a resource for material. Few, however, do it as effectively as she. With emotional honesty, beautiful counterpoint harmonies and simple, catchy melodies, Van Etten takes the individual experience of lost love and makes it accessible. Pain pop.

The crowd was especially receptive at The Bowery Ballroom on Saturday, perhaps because it was the singer’s 31st birthday. Her family was in the audience and made it known, shouting encouragement in between songs. Van Etten kindly responded, half embarrassed and half pleased to have material for stage banter. Because impromptu speaking doesn’t come easy to her and there are tense silences—but her kind ethos made up for it. She is, simply, charming.

Congeniality is important when playing songs with such emotional heft. You don’t want people to get the wrong idea when singing, “Serpents in my mind, looking for your crimes.” The songs may be dark, but goodness permeates Van Eetten’s demeanor. The Antlers gave her a giant balloon man made out of balloons for her birthday and she proudly displays it onstage. She is confident; more confident than earlier concerts and albums. She looks different. She sounds great.

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(Editor’s Note: This piece appears on The Bowery Presents The House List. Check it out here)

LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy predicted the current state of electronic dance music. On the 2002 single “Losing My Edge,” he lamented, “I’m losing my edge to the kids whose footsteps I hear when they get on the decks.” Those kids pack venues. Those kids are young—very young. Nicolas Jaar, 22, is the latest wunderkind. His 2011 album, Space Is Only Noise, introduced audiences to a unique electronic approach: the introspection of Pink Floyd and the modern dubstep of James Blake.

But Jaar is also a phenom of the dance floor. Multiple remixes and a history of international club performances point to an interest in party-making as well as headphone music. And the former was the focus of his sold-out performance at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday. While Jaar opened with atmospheric sounds and a gloomy visualizer to match, he eventually increased the tempo to a danceable clip. The crowd’s appreciation confirmed his commitment to Friday-night music over Sunday-night ambience.

With a firm control of pace, Jaar incorporated an improvisational element, adding keyboard flourishes and his baritone vocals. The effect was greatest when he invited collaborators Will Epstein and Dave Harrington onstage to play saxophone and guitar, respectively. On the best-of-show “Space Is Only Noise If You Can See,” Epstein’s twangy guitar skittered in great juxtaposition to Jaar’s huge bass drops. The kids are better than all right. They are the best around.

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