Sharon Van Etten and Damien Jurado at Metro | Photos and review
Go to any open mic night at a coffee shop or bar and you're likely to find an abundance of singer-songwriters. All of them armed with acoustic guitars and singing deeply personal compositions about love and loss, there's often very little to differentiate them from one another. The ones who rise to the top demonstrate an ability to turn their idiosyncratic odes into something that connects with and captivates an audience. Wednesday night's bill at Metro featured two such artists, each with their own ways of winning over a crowd.
Longtime balladeer Damien Jurado was the first to ply his craft, delving into a short collection of songs delivered with nothing but an acoustic guitar and his unmistakable voice. "I'm almost 40, I look it and I'm not hot," he wryly remarked partway through his performance, one that was dominated by his relatively cheery latter-day output. The autobiographical lyricism of "Working Titles" and strained falsetto of "Museum of Flight" reverberated across a reverent crowd, maintaining their impact even without the aid of the backing band that fleshed out the singer's Maraqopa LP. Dipping into the melancholic "Ohio" as he reached the end of his set, Jurado fully inhabited his role as an experienced songwriter, tenderly delivering his heartfelt words without a trace of insincerity.
Returning to town for what seemed like the umpteenth time this year, Sharon Van Etten brought a three-piece band to provide the underpinnings to tracks from her 2012 release, Tramp. Backed by projections of tree limbs and city streets, her plaintive songs gained an almost cinematic scope, buoyed by the gentle confidence that Van Etten has developed in recent years. Joined by Heather Broderick on backing vocals, the singers' harmonies lent an incredible depth to songs like "Give Out" and "Warsaw," at times eclipsing the impact of their recorded versions. A solo rendition of "I Fold" was a reminder of the raw talent that Van Etten demonstrated on her debut release, Because I Was in Love, wrapping mournful lyricism around serene finger-picked chords. A cathartic blast of energy punctuated the main set, as the group launched into the assured rhythms of "Serpents" before giving way to a droning rendition of "I'm Wrong" that quickly descended into a cacophony of squealing guitars. Alone or with her band, the unassuming Van Etten seemed to find solace in her own words, simultaneously conveying a sense of sorrow, poise and beauty that permeated her performance.