From the MoSS? Pit: Sharon Van Etten

sharon van etten

Sharon Van Etten and her band gave the crowd at Gabe’s a great show Oct. 13.

There was this one time at Gabe’s when things got kinda awkward. I want to tell you about it.

I was seeing Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. It was a great show: Ted and the band were rockin’ out, the crowd was sizable and into what was happening, and everyone was feeling good. And at some point between songs, Ted decided to tell some story about the long-running TV show Law & Order. And he even specified that he wanted to talk about the really early episodes.

To my mind, that was a good thing, because I really liked the episodes with Michael Moriarty. For one, his Ben Stone character wasn’t nearly as melodramatic as Jack McCoy. Two, the show didn’t feel it necessary that the DA’s office rack up a win-loss record that would rival Perry Mason; in fact, it seemed like Stone and Robinette were unable to get convictions on about a third of their cases, which led to some serious philosophical conversation on the courthouse steps between the defeated prosecution team and then Stone would flag a cab while Robinette stood there looking mad/sad and you could only imagine what sort of witticism DA Adam Schiff would have spouted had he been standing there.

adam schiffAdam Schiff (at right) was the best, by the way.

Anyway, for those of you not steeped in Law & Order trivia, Michael Moriarty pretty much talked his way out of his L&O role because he was angry that Janet Reno was critical of violence on TV and Moriarty felt that she was overstepping her boundaries and feared government censorship (or something like that). Producers cited his “erratic behavior” for his eventual dismissal, not Reno, but I think they were/are part of an elaborate cover-up!

So I decided this was the perfect time for me to yell the following: “FUCK JANET RENO!”

I didn’t stop to think about how that would sound as a lone voice coming from a crowd in a venue that isn’t exactly world-renowned for its acoustics. Not the criticisms of a former attorney general, but how what I said would get lost in translation, so to speak, as the sound waves went forward toward the stage.

So Ted Leo stops mid-sentence and says, “Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh did someone just say FUCK TED LEO?”

Suddenly everyone’s head swung around to look at me. It felt a lot like this:

kids pointing and laughing

I screamed out “NOOOOOO! JANET RENO!” but it was too late. Killed the entire vibe. Ted finally says, “Ah never mind, I don’t want to tell the story now.” And everyone glared at me again and I pretty much died right then. Only thing I remember after that is having tinnitus for about a week because Gabe’s.

sharon van etten with guitarAnyway, I bring this up because as good as the Sharon Van Etten concert was at Gabe’s on Monday night, one of the main takeaways was how awkward it got for a moment or two.

And once again, we have a Music or Space Shuttle member to thank! Not me this time, though!

Before I give you the lowdown on how Sam got in trouble during the concert, I’ll quickly give you some thoughts about the evening in general.

We had a pretty sizable gang out for the show (seven of us, all told) and most of us were able to make our way to the very front of the crowd. I was right along the stage, in fact. The view was great, of course, and the sound was actually quite nice from that angle. Sharon and the band seemed to be in a good mood, talking about how Doug the guitarist was celebrating a birthday and how they enjoyed their pre-show meal at the Motley Cow. It wasn’t the longest show in the world but they played most of what I wanted to hear.

“Taking Chances” and “Break Me” are two of my favorite songs and they both sounded great. “Serpents” was pretty cool although I think there were some technical difficulties or something with Sharon’s gear as she shook her head a time or two and kinda toe-tapped her pedals in a slight show of frustration. It still had a great aggressive feel to it and really it’s the vocal in that song (the way she holds the words “my mind” in the chorus) that does it for me. “Afraid of Nothing” was a great start to the night; “Your Love Is Killing Me” ended the main set very well. We got a two-song encore that included a song that didn’t make the last record but not for lack of quality, based on the rendition we heard.

Sharon seems genuinely appreciative of the fans; we noticed this at her Pitchfork set in July as well. It’s a weird juxtaposition sometimes, hearing her happy moments of gratitude before heading back into songs that pull at heartstrings, but it’s a cool trait that we like about her.

The set by opener Tiny Ruins (what we caught of it, anyway) was good. A bit more subdued than what Sharon and her band do, but they seem rooted in the same philosophical vein. I liked what I heard and need to seek out some more.

Non-concert thing: I’m still not a big fan of Toppling Goliath putting everything they have into bottling, consequently taking Golden Nugget off the taps of Iowa City drinking establishments. Lagunitas is picking up the slack, though.

OK, so let’s talk about Sam.

I have been making a conscious effort to stay off my phone during shows anymore. Not completely, but I try to get any photos or videos out of the way in the first three songs (this is a common grace period that credentialed media have for shooting photos, the first three songs). I can get a few shots, perhaps get one song worth of video, and then put the phone away. Worked out for me at the Cure at Riot Fest, as they played “Fascination Street” second overall, the song I wanted to capture. So that’s what I did: took maybe 10 photos of Sharon during the first song, sent one of them to Todd with a report about the crowd, and that was that.

So during the third song (I believe), I was kinda bobbing my head to the music, eyes half closed, when I swore I heard Sharon sing, right in the middle of the verse, “Get off your phone!” I shook my head, wondering if I imagined that, then went back to being the solemn hipster in the front row.

So at song’s end, Sharon went on a bit of a rant about people engaging during shows. About being on cell phones during shows. About how people can take photos and videos if they want, she doesn’t care, but it really sounds like she does care, and again, if you want to be on your phone, go ahead and do that, just don’t stand up front and do it, let other people up there, OK rant over let’s play music again.

I do believe that a guy two spots to my left recorded the whole thing on his phone, so he could correct any creative license I’ve taken with my paraphrasing.

Needless to say, at this point I would not be fulfilling the request I received during the second song, via text from Jess (Todd’s better half), hoping for video of “Your Love Is Killing Me.” And that reluctance was hammered home later in the set, when Sharon AGAIN ranted about cell phone use. Jesus, I thought, who the fuck set her off?

So after the show ended, I turned around to chat with the others: Michelle, Travis and Annie, Sam and Devon. They were all in the vicinity of the front row (Michelle was next to me; everyone else was one or two “rows” back).

“So you know that cell phone rant?” Sam says. “That was me.”

What?

Apparently Sam was texting a friend, letting him/her (I never asked for clarification) know that Sharon’s set had just started and there was still time to get there to catch the lion’s share of the show. I’m guessing the glow from his phone illuminated Sam’s sexy mug in such a way that Sharon couldn’t help but notice. And when a guy like Sam isn’t paying attention to you, you let him know that he’s fucking up!

sharon van etten and sam

They were apologizing to each other at blurring speeds, apparently.

The story has a happy ending: Sharon hung out after the show, and Sam went over to apologize. He said she was apologetic herself by the time the conversation neared its end.

This isn’t the first time Sam has annoyed a musician in my presence at Gabe’s. Some 12 years ago (give or take) he and I were hanging out at Gabe’s to see the Donnas. I believe there were four bands on the bill, so there was plenty of time to kill.

This was in the golden age of coin-operated bar-top games like Trivia Whiz. Apparently Sam and I weren’t the only people who liked playing that game, as two of the Donnas (Donna R the smokin’ hot guitarist and Donna F the bass player) were back there playing. So we hovered, partly because two Donnas were playing but partly because we are trivia nerds.

So we’re watching over their shoulders and eventually Sam starts chiming in with answers. Of course he’s right every time, but it’s like when you’re playing solitaire and someone comes over and says “Duh! The 8 can go on that 9!” or something like that. You want to turn around and punch the guy in the seeds.

And Donna F the scary bassist gave a look that sort of conveyed that message. This photo of Donna F found on the Interwebs is pretty representative:

donna f

So perhaps out of guilt or perhaps as a way to flirt with Donna R, Sam ended up getting like $40 worth of quarters and gave them to the two Donnas playing Trivia Whiz, saying “If I’m going to blurt out answers I should at least pay for your games.” And much like his conciliatory conversation with Sharon, things worked out. They let us join in and it was good fun. The other two Donnas dropped by at some point, which was also pretty cool (I thought Donna A the singer was kinda cute or whatever). A little while later, they put on a really fun rock show.

I should clarify a couple of things: one, Sam didn’t really get $40 worth of quarters to play Trivia Whiz with the Donnas. He can tell you the exact amount in his inevitable defense statement in the comments of this post.

Second, I didn’t witness the Sharon conversation where they made up or whatever. I had already had my own conversation with Sharon during the show. Toward the end of the concert, she mentioned how she had a really shitty morning at the airport, where she and a grumpy airport worker had gotten into a bit of a spat. Sharon said she felt horrible about it but the airport worker kinda had it coming or something like that.

So it got kinda quiet and I seized my moment to interject, “What, was she on her phone or something?”

To which Sharon, to her credit, said without missing a beat, “No…but I did text a bunch of people about it.”

Good show.

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4 comments on “From the MoSS? Pit: Sharon Van Etten

  1. First of all, let me get this out of the way right off the bat: Sharon is a dual threat. An incredible singer and enchanting performer on stage, and humble, approachable, and engaging off stage. And she was totally, totally right … I was trying to tweet out a photo to our many readers (or maybe just one in particular), saying there was still time to get here because she just started. But I’m standing absolutely third row fucking center with no buffer between us, right in her line of sight. Worst part of the story was that the message never went through because of bad reception, so I caused a ruckus for absolutely NO reason.

    (For the record … the sing-song “get off your phone” and the original short rant was directed at me. The second, longer rant that came five songs later was NOT directed at me. Someone else must not have been listening, because my phone was in my pocket all night after the first rant.)

    Downstairs after the show, I turn around and she was just standing there behind me, so I just said, “I’m sorry. But in my feeble defense, I was trying to promote your show … probably beforehand would have been better, eh?” And she laughs and starts saying how she felt bad for the rant, to which I assured her, “Don’t be sorry. I had it coming,” and told her to make an example of me at future shows if she must. I can’t imagine how much that sucks for a performer to deal with in 2014.

    So yeah, bad habit broken. I’m cured. Thanks, Sharon.

    P.S. … it was $40. More like $3, which is, like, 12 games of Trivia Whiz.

  2. Pingback: Best albums of 2014: No. 8-10 | Music or Space Shuttle?

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