Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Sharon Van Etten performed her 2010 record Epic in full via a live stream from the artist’s beloved origin, Zebulon. epic Ten, the record’s re-release featuring artists from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon to Fiona Apple, is out in the world now. Ticket sales from the event helped to keep the venue—a place where Van Etten credited her start—alive while re-visiting an emotive album that served as a massive turning point in the singer/songwriter’s legacy.
After a short introductory film screening which documented the befores and afters of Epic, Van Etten appeared onstage with her band. “I’d rather let you touch my arm until I die,” she sang in the first verse of “A Crime,” re-visiting vulnerable lyrics with a strong, rich vocal tone. The band warmed up gradually throughout the sparse first track. Backing vocalist Heather Woods Broderick seamlessly joined Van Etten in an airy harmony, while Jorge Balbi laid down a steady, light drumbeat.
Van Etten switched between a sleek acoustic and a cool, cherry-red electric guitar throughout sets. If “A Crime” nodded to the Tennessean artist’s songwriting roots, the following song, “Peace Signs,” forcefully spun the wheel in a different direction. Guitarist Charley Damski filled in the gaps of Van Etten’s fast strumming; combined with punching keys and a hearty bassline, the execution was people’s first glance at the fullness of Epic’s sound—the music was grand and encompassing, and Van Etten’s unwavering vigor pushed each track forward with self-assured fortitude.
Played over forceful steel guitar notes, “Save Yourself” was straight-forward, with a subtle country-sourced twang interwoven through the melody. Dropping the strings, Van Etten stepped over to the harmonium for the drawn-out, undone “DsharpG.” Balbi set the initial beat with a kick drum, followed by the foot-pumped sound of the harmonium in its eerie, depressed key. Van Etten’s voice was sanctified by the instruments and backed by Broderick. The frontwoman’s tone was light and elongated in contrast to her usual full-bodied vocals while she sang, “Everyone says I’m a fool to believe in that,” chronicling her mental state at the climax of an abusive relationship.
A stormy electric riff marked the pensive “Don’t Do It,” as the songwriter began to challenge her antagonist. “You can take it—yeah, you want to run/ Said you wanted to, then kissed the gun,” Van Etten narrated, before both women’s vocals crescendoed harmoniously at the outro, Van Etten mumbling a final, “I wish I could make you right.”
Equally sweet and tough, the uncertain, irreverent “One Day” served as the final act before Van Etten finally paused to address her audience, a task she saved until the show’s end to avoid tears. She shared her love for Zebulon, music, Epic, her band and, of course, her willful audience for their continued support.
Van Etten returned to the harmonium for her finale, the eternal, slow-burning “Love More.” The final track was crushing, as it built to an instrumental, full-circle, intense climax that left the entire record in pieces, just as it was born.
10 years since its release, Epic remains proof of music’s eternal flame when done justly. Van Etten’s vulnerable songwriting, raw talent and cool, dangerous passion for music built a record that will remain in conversation for years to come, drawing people in and keeping her story alive with each listen.
Photo Credit: Kayln Oyer