Probably everyone else in attendance saw this coming, but one of the night’s biggest surprises for me was simply seeing the War on Drugs on the bill. They’ve been touring with Sharon Van Etten across the country, but due to their upcoming Sasquatch appearance, it looked like they’d be unable to play in Seattle. The tea leaves became easier to read once I saw the Neptune’s website the day of the show, and there it said “SPECIAL GUESTS: The War on Drugs.” Slave Ambient, their latest release, has been on high rotation for me since it came out, with equal parts majestic instrumentation and poignant lyrics (my personal favorite that was performed on Sunday was “I Was There” with its biting refrain of “I thought I had you by the hand / Only had you by the glove.”) Adam Granduciel and company seamlessly brought their Highway 61 Revisited by-way-of Loveless jams on-stage, but another influence was made apparent that I hadn’t heard in their music before tonight. Introducing what Granduciel called his favorite song ever written, the band launched into a cover of the Scottish-big-music-makers Waterboys’ “A Pagan Place,” and it was good to see further examples that they aren’t wholly beholden to Americana forebears.
There was a telling moment during the tail-end of Sharon Van Etten’s set that seems to describe her music to a T. While introducing “All I Can,” she told the crowd the song was about mistakes, and that if she had a diary, big bold letters on the front would merely read “mistakes.” Over the course of her three albums, Van Etten has written a lot about mistakes, and not merely the incorrect-usage-of-cover-sheets-on-your-TPS-reports variety, but the life altering kinds, like staying with someone who makes your life a living hell, but that you can’t imagine being without. I’ve thankfully found myself bereft of friends who are in on-and-off relationships, but I know Van Etten will soundtrack a lot of drunkenly weepy ‘guys nights’ if the time comes again soon.
Tramp, her stunning new album, manages to sound more triumphant than her earlier output, even as her lyrics can still largely read as pleas to a damaged significant other. Much as been said about the guest appearances on the record (production by a dude from the National, Zach Condon of Beirut sings on two songs, and there’s also Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner jamming on “Serpents”) but while playing live Van Etten, without all those people on stage, was able to reiterate that these songs are her own. By the end of the night I had violated one of my formerly-resolute concert norms of never yelling anything aloud ever, but when Van Etten announced she was playing her last song, I began shouting for “Don’t Do It,” both as a request for my favorite song of hers, and as a way saying “hey, I’m not ready for you to go yet.” She kindly replied “Oh, I’m gonna do it” and played a wistful song that I didn’t recognize. For an artist whose body of work largely speaks to doing the wrong thing that feels right, of shutting out everyone in your life who tells you just to dump the asshole/bitch already, I couldn’t think of a more proper ending to the night.