When we walked into The 5 Spot Saturday night, Sharon Van Etten was sitting at a table near the front of the club, surrounded by a circle of friends. As the night went on, and the room filled up with a who's-who of local musicians, Murfreesboro scene stalwarts from back in the day and people we've never seen before, that circle only got bigger and more prone to hugging. It was the kind of night that felt like a celebration as much as a rock show, and we're grateful for having been there.
First up was Jasmin Kaset, who at one point asked if we liked her outfit. Normally we'd be sort of offended by that question, but she was wearing ... a "diorama tray," maybe, is what we'll call it ... with a keyboard of some sort tucked into the scenery, and we had to admit it was a pretty sweet get-up. Her songs were bright and sharp, and we kind of wondered why she was giving her album away for free at the merch table, when she'd managed to come up with music we'd be willing to pay for.
Having never heard Julianna Barwick before, we were kind of expecting another set of words and guitar, but what we got instead was an immersive set of looped vocals — huge waves of harmony crashing over each other to create what we might call a cappella space rock, for lack of a better term. Judging by our conversations throughout the night, we weren't the only ones who dug it.
When Van Etten took the stage with a whiskey and Coke in one hand, the place was packed. She and her band breezed through almost all of her latest album, starting off with five Epic tracks: "A Crime," "Peace Sign," "One Day," "Save Yourself" and "Don't Do It," with Barwick — who Van Etten described as her favorite singer ever — backing her up on two of them. Between songs, Van Etten was jokey and loose. At one point, she called out Shoot the Mountain's Jonathan Brock for taking a dump in the middle of her set, and that should give you an idea of the banter. She conducted a number of informal polls — "How many of you ever went to the Red Rose?" she asked one point, to a roar of hoots and cheers — until she hit a snag trying to tune her guitar. "No more polls while tuning," she shrugged, before playing one of several new songs.
It all went by so fast. "It's hard to come back to Tennessee," Van Etten said as she introduced "Love More," her 10th song, and the finale of her set. "I wrote this song for the people who had my back," she said, and as she pressed the bellows of her harmonium, filling the room with a pulsing, droning chord, she hung her head, closed her eyes and seemed to gather herself for a moment before she started to sing. The way her voice and the harmonium intertwined created an amazing, shimmering effect through the PA — we kept wondering if Barwick had rejoined her on vocals — and while we were kind of hoping she'd pull out her R.E.M. cover for an encore, it was the perfect ending to an inspiring night.