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Live Photos + Review: Sharon Van Etten – The Powerstation, Auckland

Live Photos + Review: Sharon Van Etten – The Powerstation, Auckland

Photography by Ngamihi Pawa / Review by Ian Craig Brown / Thursday 6th June, 2019 10:21AM

After a week or so of unstable mental health that resulted in quitting a brand new job, Sharon Van Etten's sold out performance at the Powerstation could not have come at a better time for me. The idea of being obliterated by her ethereal voice felt like the perfect cathartic purge. The weather seemed to agree and decided to send what felt like the first proper deluge of the winter. The sky and I were ready to weep like John Campbell did four years ago during her last appearance.

Undeterred by the storm, concertgoers trickled in as Micheal Morley of The Dead C opened the show. His looping arpeggios on a twelve-string acoustic felt wasted on a crowd that talked over them. The unfortunate price of being the opening act, no matter what credentials you have. A true professional, Morley sat modestly on a chair in front of Van Etten’s set up which included three keyboards and a small hanging set of chimes. He valiantly battled against the murmur of voices and the few rows that did watch at the front seemed rapt in attention. Maybe it wasn’t completely wasted after all.

With a quick turn around, Van Etten and her band took the stage. The scene seemed pulled straight from a scene in the classic 1977 Italian horror film Suspiria, complete with harsh backlit pulsing red and blue lighting amongst a haze of smoke. A single spotlight lit Van Etten's face adding to the drama, as the band locked into a droning bass-driven groove. The obliteration I had hoped for from the first notes.

As the show continued I couldn’t help draw similarities between Van Etten and the photo of a young Patti Smith emblazoned on the wall of the venue. She prowled the stage in a white shirt under a blazer with all the commanding presence of the 70's punk / poet icon.

A few songs off the new album into the set, Van Etten moved to some older tracks to “prove that she could still play guitar.” Her warm and modest demeanour a departure from her previous posing. A voice from the crowd shouted, “I fucking love you bitch” gained laughs and multiple unbelieving repetitions from the star. “Welcome to New Zealand” she laughed.

Like Chekov's gun, my eyes had been glued on that set of chimes lurking in the back of the stage throughout Van Etten's performance. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait until the last act for them. About five songs in, Van Etten brandished them in what for me, would be the highlight of the night. Somewhere, someone had opened a door letting in the winter storm from outside. The cold air mixing with the pulsing lights, the smoke on stage, Van Etten’s soaring voice, the driving bass of the band, and of course the chimes, created a sense that the crowd had been transported away into some otherworldly plain. As if at any moment three witches would appear from the haze to prophesize our collective future.

Earlier, Van Etten mentioned her excitement in having Morley open the show. The Dead C were her “training wheels” into music she said with a soft laugh. Throughout the show heavier, cacophonous moments felt a definite nod to the Dunedin legends. It paired perfectly with the softer Americana side of the band’s sound.

When Van Etten announced they only had one song left, someone from the crowd shouted out for three more. Her response, “Isn’t the saying always leave them wanting more?”, and a soft genuine laugh. Humble and captivating until the very end. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait another four years.

You can catch Ian Craig Brown playing as half of Dad Jokes at Urbanaut's birthday party this Friday at Auckland's Whammy Bar, and at Tauranga's epic Loserpalooza festival on Saturday 17th August. Click on the thumbnails below to view a full gallery of Ngamihi Pawa's snaps of the event...


Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten

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Links
sharonvanetten.com/
facebook.com/ngamihiphotography/
facebook.com/dadjokesband/

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