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Review: The War on Drugs and Sharon Van Etten

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Lately it seems like every show I’ve been to has had multiple openers. In most cases, my attitude is the more the merrier- more often than not I’ll truly enjoy all three or four bands on a bill. The one downfall is that sometimes set times get cut shorter and shorter for each act, leaving me wanting more of the band leading up to the headliner than I’m able to hear. There’s something to be said for having an opener be a single tense in terms of show line ups. This was exemplified on Sunday night at the Sharon Van Etten show at the Neptune with her opening band (see – singular) The War On Drugs.

The War on Drugs

The War on Drugs is a band that I’ve been listening to for a little while now, and I was very excited to hear how their music sounded live. To be blunt, they didn’t disappoint. Leading into their set, which lasted about an hour, they gave themselves barely and introduction and let their music make the first impression. Starting out with their single ‘Brothers,’ the crowd quickly became acquainted with their melodic, dreamy music- largely pulled from their most recent album Slave Ambient. The Neptune was without a doubt a great venue for this group of guys – their songs all just sounded incredible and filled the room up.

The War on Drugs did what I personally feel a Sunday night show should do – they played a chilled out, relaxed set that was still hard hitting enough to keep the audience engaged. My favorite part about their live performance is how multi-layered their music comes across – it’s next to impossible to tell where one instrument starts and another ends, which created this cocoon of music that wraps the listener up tight and feels like perfection.

By the end of their set, they had shed some of the dream like ambiance and their singer/guitar player Adam Granduciel played harder and with more intensity than he had earlier in the night. The balance they achieved of steady, wave like grooves combined with intense moments of guitar playing made for an all around great set and made me far more excited to see them when they return to the great northwest for Sasquatch in May. I think these guys are going to sound even better while laying in the grass at the Gorge with the Columbia River as their sound-man.

The War on Drugs

When Sharon Van Etten took over the stage, what struck me most about her was her affection for her fans. This woman really knows how to come across as charming and appreciative, making the crowd absolutely fall in love with her. The show she and her band put on was a perfect glimpse into her albums; she played her music in a way that displayed her beautiful voice first and foremost. Van Etton pulled heavily from her latest release, Tramp, playing songs like ‘Give Out’ and ‘Kevin’s.’ She of course made sure to play older material as well like ‘Serpents’ and ‘Save Yourself.’ Her fans and people new to her material were able to float along with her through her emotionally charged song catalog, appreciating her glittering voice throughout each verse.

The set was, as a whole, full of soft songs punched occasionally with something more uptempo, but the crowning jewel on the night was her performance of ‘Joke or a Lie’ off of Tramp. This song is undeniably gorgeous – listening to it is like being rocked by a lullaby. Her voice singing “Let us escape for a night./Breathe the silence./I am alone… /But I am alone in this room with you” came across as beautifully as I can possibly imagine, draping the audience in sadness while at the same time a sense of peace. Once the song ended, I wasn’t sure how she could top it. Her encore was a good one, but the moments those songs provided weren’t nearly as intimate and influential as the moments during ‘Joke or a Lie.’

I walked away from this Sunday night show feeling like I had gotten just enough of each band’s set. Whether this be because there were only two acts on the bill or because the sets the artists played were so spot on is hard to tell, but regardless, both of these bands shine live.