"Hoot ... hoot," she said, trying to mimic the affirmative exclamation from fans at Mr. Smalls Theatre. "Just don't make it sound too much like a boo and make me paranoid."
As far as the audience was concerned, there was nothing not to like, yet alone boo, about the
Pulling frequently from her May release, which like its 2012 predecessor is earning rave reviews, Van Etten started with a few slower songs, gradually cranking up the heat as she flitted from acoustic guitar to keys to electric guitar. Primary keyboardist
With her dark bangs often shrouding her eyes, the 33-year-old Van Etten came across as sweet, grateful and grounded, advising spectators, mostly 5 to 10 years younger than her, to "give yourselves a round of applause for sitting through my slow songs," and joking her post-show merchandise table would sell tissues for all the tears her forthright, melodic poetry had produced. She introduced by name her merch table saleswoman as well as her sound guy (who brought his A-game), putting them on equal footing with her bandmates.
Van Etten set up "You Know Me Well" by explaining it's a song about going to therapy, cheerfully polling fans first to see how many of them have done so. It's nothing to be ashamed about, she said, as a smattering of hands shyly rose.
Van Etten lit up when she spotted in the crowd her cousin holding her baby.
"You look beautiful," Van Etten told them, eliciting "Awwws" from the audience.
That was the cousin who turned Van Etten onto cool '90s bands like Blur.
Van Etten submitted to the guitar-heavy influences of her youth as her band dug into "Serpents" with a ferocity and sting that would have impressed any of today's skinny-jean-wearing indie-rock/arena-aspiring young'uns. The next song, "Your Love Is Killing Me," rocked out, too.
I hated to see the encore arrive just then, dissipating the intensity.
Van Etten started her two-song encore alone on keys, singing "I Know," an emotionally vulnerable tale of searing love not fully realized. You could launch a whole
Lastly came "Every Time the Sun Came Up," which Van Etten introduced as her only sing-along. Be careful where you sing it, given its edgy lyrics with a few not-safe-for-work words beyond the chorus.
The mainstream isn't ready for Van Etten yet, and maybe that's a good thing. It was nice seeing her close-up amid a Smalls crowd that wasn't wall-to-wall packed as usual, although another 100 hooters would have made things even more memorable.
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