Sharon Van Etten, Nilüfer Yanya

Sharon Van Etten and Nilüfer Yanya at Union Transfer, Philadelphia, PA, February 7, 2019,

Feb 14, 2019 Web Exclusive
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It's well known that Sharon Van Etten grew up in New Jersey and began her musical career in New York City, but the Philadelphia date of her Remind Me Tomorrow tour was a homecoming of sorts. Van Etten recorded her first two albums, Because I Was in Love (2009) and Epic (2010), in Philly, and her parents were among the hundreds, if not thousands, of people in the crowd at her sold-out Union Transfer headlining show. Despite the city's connections to her past, her set consisted mostly of Remind Me Tomorrow cuts, songs whose musical makeup allows Van Etten to try a performance style that's new for her: the hands-free sort.

Before Van Etten took the stage, beloved 23-year-old sensation Nilüfer Yanya opened with a set that emphasized the soul and jazz facets of her homespun guitar pop sound. The blue and purple lighting, ample fog, and perfectly-mixed saxophone she and her band used on stage ensured equal R&B and rock appeal on songs such as "Thanks 4 Nothing." On "In Your Head," one of the handful of songs she played from her upcoming debut album, Miss Universe, her rock tendencies thundered over an enraptured audience; on the 2017 instant-classic "Baby Luv," the tenderness and range of Yanya's thickly British singing voice commanded everyone paying attention (as in, everyone who wasn't rudely shouting in the very back rows of the crowd).

Yanya's set ended to more applause than most openers receive, yet this amount of applause paled to that which Van Etten received the moment she walked on stage. Her timing was gracious and intentional: She appeared 40 seconds into "Jupiter 4," the first song of the night, right as her band finished playing the track's ominous, slowly oscillating intro and transitioned into the first verse. The moment her face was easily visible to the audience, she was at the mic stand, singing without a guitar in her hands.

In interviews leading up to Remind Me Tomorrow's release, Van Etten occasionally mentioned her excitement that, since her newest songs rely less on guitar, she can now move freely about stage and dance more often. Dressed in a jacket and pants that looked less businessperson than they did goth rock star, her presence as a frontperson was gripping. Van Etten has also spoken of the influence of Nick Cave's recordings and touring with him on, respectively, her songwriting and live performance; the way her lipstick color seemed to perfectly match both her jet-black hair and grey jacket shrouded her in the sort of Gothic, deathly presence that Cave is known to perfect both on stage and on record.

Van Etten's new stage demeanor felt particularly well-suited to Remind Me Tomorrow highlights including "Comeback Kid," during which she shot her hands up in a fist as she sang the chorus. This move is awfully reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen, whose influence on Van Etten's recordings lies not on "Comeback Kid," but on "Seventeen," for which Van Etten's live performance became a matter of massive buzz before she even released Remind Me Tomorrow. On the song's bridge, Van Etten belts more boldly and loudly than at any other moment in her catalog, and a recent Jimmy Kimmel Live! performance shows that, on stage, she can pull off this borderline uncomfortably intense moment with no issue. She did exactly this at Union Transfer, and the force she put into doing so suggests she'll never give less than her all to performing "Seventeen," the defining moment of her newest album.

Although Remind Me Tomorrow was the night's obvious focus, Van Etten snuck in a few fan favorites from older albums. "Tarifa," which has undergone a newfound appreciation following Van Etten's performance of it in the Twin Peaks revival, was paired with "Every Time the Sun Comes Up" as the only two Are We There songs she played. "Serpents," perhaps the most well-regarded song on Van Etten's breakout album, Tramp, received the night's most rapturous moment-the-song-starts applause from the audience.

"Serpents" came as a welcome surprise following a set mostly unconcerned with Van Etten's past work, but it wasn't more exciting a plot twist than her covering Sinead O'Connor's "Black Boys on Mopeds." Even those unfamiliar with the song could quickly tell it was a cover; never do Van Etten's lyrics so bluntly offer social commentary the way "Black Boys on Mopeds" does. Covering this song was a brave decision on Van Etten's part, but with her parents in the crowd, she may have been particularly fearless this night: "Without their love and support," she said three songs into a night that was a homecoming in more ways than one, "I don't know if I'd have the confidence to be doing this."

www.sharonvanetten.com

www.niluferyanya.com

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