The first of a series of stories about things that happen on tour. Expect more on our upcoming tour!
We are on tour opening for Sharon Van Etten, one of our first real tours. Sharon is a singer-songwriter, traveling with just a drummer and bassist. She plays guitar and, on occasion, harmonium. It’s kind of a weird matchup, since we are loud and have complicated song structures and lots of synths and there is nothing about our music that would stylistically connect it to hers or vice versa. But we love her, enough that we eagerly take in her entire set every night and listen to the album in the van the next day. She likes us, too, though she and her band mostly keep to themselves outside the shows. They are not that much older, but more experienced enough that they are not trying to get wasted and sleep on floors every night. I get it. Their merch guy is younger and cool and wants to hang out, but it never materializes. We’re all mostly doing our own respective things.
Sharon’s music is very heart-on-sleeve; it deals with emotions in a way you generally don’t deal with emotions so you can get through your day. Mostly melancholy, or at least wistful emotions; you would definitely listen to it after a bad breakup while chain-smoking and taking an entire jug of Carlo Rossi Paisan to the face. Not that that is my own personal coping mechanism or anything. So it is fair to say that a certain percentage of people at her shows are in some sort of mild-to-serious emotional distress. And couples, lots of couples, which at first I don’t get but then I remember I used to take my girlfriend to see Cat Power and it makes total sense.
At our show in Durham, the backstage area is not particularly separated from where the audience is. You can basically just walk right back there, and one woman does, looking a mess. Her eyes are red and her eyeliner is all runny and she sniffles. She has deduced that I am in one of the bands, and asks if I can introduce her to Sharon. She says it’s her birthday and she just had her heart broken and she needs to talk to Sharon. She appears to be there by herself. I wonder if the person who broke her heart was supposed to go with her. Or, worse, has come and said or done something awful and then left. It’s still early, and I actually don’t know where Sharon is, but I tell her I’ll introduce them later, when she surfaces, and that I’m sorry. As we part ways, I think of what a burden it must be to make music people connect to emotionally in that way. You probably have to listen to people’s sad sack stories all the time. Fuck that. I don’t actually want to introduce them. Sharon is busy, and has to get in the performance zone, and she’d probably be annoyed with me for making her talk to a sloppy-drunk miserable person.
The next time I see Sharon, she is sitting next to the sad woman backstage. She has her hand on the woman’s shoulder, and is listening to her intently. They sit there for a long time, and hug when they part ways. The woman looks a lot better. Sharon gets onstage and totally kills it, again. I make a mental note to have more empathy, the way one might try and remember to pay the electric bill.