Real Live Action

Sharon Van Etten

w/ Little Scream

Media Club; March 29, 2011

Review By A.B. Murray

Dont Do It
When I arrived at the Media Club, the venue was wall-to-wall packed with folks either standing around and chatting, sitting down and sharing some beers or sprawled across the dance floor reading books. I can’t be certain, but I think I saw someone reading Harry Potter. Anyways, the book reading was just a sideline while the rest of the crowd waited for the show to start and it added something of a Little Mountain aura to a venue that’s usually more raucous. It was pleasant and gave a gal a chance to note the warm wood tone of the dance floor and the drapery around the windows.

When Montreal’s Little Scream stepped onto the stage, however, there was no need to turn your eyes anywhere but the stage. Making an unplanned solo performance, as her band didn’t make it across the border, Laurel Sprengelmeyer commanded the audience from the get-go, providing banter that was hilarious, filthy and even veil-lifting (a plug for Montreal’s Mama Africa Beauty Supply explained the ponytail enlargement Sprengelmeyer wore). As for her music, Little Scream stomped on the stage percussively, self-harmonized with looped vocals and shared the mic with a handheld keyboard. Her eerily sparse vocals, when layered with effects, brought to mind the bizarre, sample-infused electro-folk of early CocoRosie, but, when unmediated, it had something of a gravely and vulnerable timbre akin to the stripped down post-grunge of Hayden. Little Scream’s bombastic demeanour and haunting performance drew plenty of parallels to mind but was its own enigma and had the audience pretty pleased. An impromptu attempt to showcase a new song at the end of her set was thwarted by a couple of false starts, but another joke and a jump into her previously planned finale didn’t seem to throw the crowd off at all. In the end, humour wins out and Sprengelmeyer was pretty much a delight.

Taking the stage with her band after the requisite intermission, Brooklyn’s Sharon Van Etten capitalized on the rapt attention of the crowd to cocoon herself, eyes shut, in song. Opening her lids after a few moments, she voiced surprise that we were still there. This humble attitude belies the ability of Van Etten, who, according to her blog, recently lost her voice at South By Southwest in Austin, TX. If she hadn’t told the crowd that she’d lost it, it’s doubtful anyone would’ve been the wiser: her somewhat raspy speech had no effect on the deep resonance and consistently clear tone of her lyrics.

An admonishment not to drink on stage, lest you tip your beer bottle that segued nicely into “Don’t Do It” and a sweet dedication to her mother before “One Day” acted as soft-spoken contrasts to the rich, deep, vocal deluge that Van Etten’s recordings don’t come close to harnessing. After breaking a guitar string on her last song with the full band’s backing, Van Etten moved to the harmonium by her lonesome, admitting, “I don’t know how to play, I just like to sing over this thing.”

Though her songs do not read as confessionally as some other singer/songwriters, an admission that “DsharpG” was about a failed relationship she’d believed in, despite all the doubt surrounding it, set the tone for a solo set which, when finished, sent a contented and impressed audience back into a cold, rainy Tuesday night.