To start the night off, Damien Jurado mystified a seated Town Ballroom audience as he himself took to a wooden chair with acoustic guitar in hand (a way he says he plays best) and brought his astounding set of folk songs. One song ,"Ohio", from the 1999 record Reversals For Departure, stood out to me. It tells the story of a girl heading home to the Buckeye state to visit her mother who she hasn't seen in years. Jurado's vocals against his gentle and skilled guitar work were transcendent and without blemish as he cooed, "It's hard to see her leave / She belongs to her mother and the state of Ohio / I wish she belonged to me." It stands as one of the best solo acoustic sets I have ever seen, even without knowing much of the Seattle native's back catalog.
Next, Van Etten wasted no time coming out and went into favorites off her new record “All I Can” and “Warsaw”. Front and center, Van Etten swayed gently to the first few songs with her Jazzmaster sounding better than studio quality. Van Etten soon changed to an acoustic ax and moved onto to other tracks off Tramp with “Leonard” which she said she wrote while listening to a lot of Mr. Cohen’s work and “Give Out” both of which feature breathtaking vocal harmonies that capture Van Etten’s immense songwriting abilities.
Halfway through the show, Van Etten’s band left the stage and she played a requested track, “Consolation Prize”, solo. Van Etten has this enchanting way about her in the way she performs. She plays almost effortlessly in deep concentration and as a result every track radiates forth as she stands upright belting her tempestuous vocal arrangments which cut through a wall of intricate instrumentation. She checks on the crowd and her instrument intermittently, all the while bouncing a knee here and there. After her band came back on stage she shared a story about how she had written her first record when she moved back to her parents house in her native New Jersey. The anicdote led into the heartbreaking song “A Crime” off her 2010 effort Epic, which directly references the story in the lyrics: "Alone in this basement where I will write these songs / Of things I'll never say to you again and you know why." After sharing warm words about her first experience in Buffalo, she played her final song to a much deserved standing ovation, and then came out for a sensation encore playing “Ask” off Tramp.
All Photos by Tom Dennis