Sharon Van Etten isn’t an overtly political artist. The New Jersey native made her name on devastating, confessional anthems of hard-earned love and heartbreak. But her fifth studio album, 2019’s “Remind Me Tomorrow,” was her first as a new parent. And, as it turns out, motherhood coupled with the dark shadow of impending doom that’s spread over the United States since, say, 2016 changes your perspective a bit.
PHOTO GALLERY: Sharon Van Etten at ACL Live TV taping
Midway through her performance for Austin City Limits’ live television taping on Monday night, Van Etten sent her band offstage and sat solo at the keyboard. She was going to perform a cover, she said. She shook off some of the doom-and-gloom glamour of “Hands,” a song about fighting with a lover that Van Etten delivers with a gut-wrenching growl much more feral in-person than on record, and smiled cheerily at the audience.
“I’m always surprised I have a voice after that,” she said.
She was going to take things down a notch. “I’m a new mama,” she reflected. Things felt different now. The world is a scary place outside of the bubble of music-making and concert-going. The future feels uncertain, but for the first time, Van Etten is embracing the optimism in uncertainty—she wants to achieve more, to set an example for her kid, to become the person she always thought she might be one day. She wants to protect him from the things he doesn’t need to know for as long as possible.
With that prelude, she launched into a stirring cover of Sinead O’Connor’s “Black Boys On Mopeds,” a commentary on police brutality. The song is an ode to a 1983 victim, Colin Roach, and was released in 1990, but the lyrics are just as heart-wrenching and timely today.
The band returned to the stage for her next song, the rapturous rock anthem “Seventeen,” during which Van Etten unleashes that snarly growl on the ghost of her teenage self: “I know what you’re gonna be/I know that you’re gonna be/You’ll crumble it up just to see/Afraid that you’ll be just like me.”
“Seventeen,” as well as lead single “Comeback Kid” and the driving “You Shadow” are bigger and brighter than the rest of her body of work, as is the sonic otherworldliness of synth-heavy “Jupiter 4,” which she played for her opener before playing a throwback for the long-time fans: the haunting “One Day” off her 2010 breakthrough album “Epic.” The maudlin track clearly hearkens to another era for Van Etten, outfitted at the Moody Theater in a glittering silver-black suit, who is most fascinating when she’s unleashing one of those breathtaking, primal cries.
No One’s Easy to Love
Cover of “Black Boys on Mopeds” by Sinead O’Connor
Every Time The Sun Comes Up
I Told You Everything
All I Can