Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen have forgotten about the guitar between them. It’s the afternoon before their July 25 show in Austin, Texas, and the two musicians are sitting backstage in a dimly lit room marked “Shared Band Hang Zone.” They have been trying out covers — Elton John and Kiki Dee’s “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” — but are soon reminded of a Paul McCartney song on the soundtrack to the 2006 film The Lake House, which then prompts them to start dreaming about retiring to the woods. After hearing about her fellow singer-songwriter’s planned time off, Olsen admits she’s wary of overtouring her latest record, Big Time, which she released in June. Van Etten feels the same way; she doesn’t want her son to grow up with her on the road. “I want to sustain where I’m at,” she tells Olsen.
Despite the decades of touring experience between them, the pair agree that they’re still figuring it out: how to manage their band members’ emotions and keep up personal relationships, all under the pressure of traveling daily and satisfying fans nightly. But this time, as Olsen puts it to Van Etten, “we get to share our weird shit.” It’s not just them — the two are on tour with Julien Baker, who’s known Van Etten for years. Baker’s in her green room next door, skipping the day’s jam session to rest. “There’s so much that is emotionally and physically taxing about touring,” Baker says later. “Your personhood aligns with the work of everybody else’s labor.” Her co-performers can relate. “This lifestyle is not normal,” Van Etten adds.
The 23-date, triple-headlined Wild Hearts Tour is a rare chance to see three of indie rock’s most acclaimed performers, each at the peak of her powers. There’s Van Etten, who influenced a generation of musicians with raw yet profound writing about love, worry, and sorrow. Olsen skillfully balances unbridled passion and sophistication as a performer, even as she shifts from hook-y jangle-pop on one album to lush country on the next. And Baker’s music is among the most evocative and visceral of her peers, with her lyrics on depression, addiction, and self-acceptance delivered in a piercing cry.
The tour was born from “Like I Used To,” a triumphant 2021 duet by Van Etten and Olsen. The two performers had admired one another for years but didn’t meet until Van Etten asked Olsen if she wanted to collaborate. “Angel’s been my favorite songwriter, and I finally had the courage to ask her to work together,” Van Etten says. “And I’m just like, I’m 41 years old! Why do I still feel like a schoolkid?” From there, the friendship grew quickly, and after the collaboration, their teams began planning a tour. When they wanted to make it more special with a third headliner, Van Etten suggested Baker. The two had met after Baker released her first solo album, 2015’s Sprained Ankle, when Van Etten introduced herself on social media and took Baker to lunch in New York. “She knew that I was younger,” Baker says, “and going through some of the things that maybe she had gone through: becoming an artist and navigating that sometimes difficult, scary place.”
The musicians and their tour managers like to compare the Wild Hearts Tour to pulling off a mini-festival: They are traveling with three buses and a semi-truck’s worth of equipment along with more than 40 people in their combined teams. (That group includes their opener, the indie-pop musician Quinn Christopherson.) Tonight’s show in Austin is at the 5,000-capacity Moody Amphitheater, a venue that none of them could headline on their own but will be nearly filled thanks to the overlap of their fan bases. “If I had done this at the beginning of my career, I would’ve worried that people thought we were exactly the same,” Olsen says. “But now I’m like, We have really different songs. There’s not anything to fear as far as competitiveness.” In Austin that night, those differences would become clear as the show moved from Baker’s muscular rock to Van Etten’s dark, though tender, synth-pop to Olsen’s sunny countrypolitan stylings. In a rarity for a co-headlining performance, almost no one in the audience leaves between sets.
The plan had been for the show to culminate with Olsen and Van Etten singing “Like I Used To” in the encore, then Baker joining the pair for a cover — the ultimate act of fan service. But weeks before the tour, Baker asked to pull out: She was coming off the heels of a grueling seven-week European tour in the spring and dealing with undisclosed personal issues, and she couldn’t dedicate herself to group rehearsals in time for the first tour date. Van Etten and Olsen immediately understood. “Instead of prioritizing the performance of togetherness and unification, they are actually living it in caring for me,” Baker says. All three look forward to rehearsing a cover on the road instead and hope to perform together for their final dates in New York at the end of August.
The tour is only Baker’s third run with a full band. During her Austin set, the best moments come when Baker turns to face the rest of the band, like when she cracks a smile at her bassist while thrashing her guitar on “Ziptie.” As Van Etten takes the stage afterward, she’s also in new territory, performing with more keys and synthesizers than ever to match her latest release, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong. She adapts smoothly, performing an upbeat reinvention of her 2014 song “Every Time the Sun Comes Up” and coaxing the crowd to their feet for “Mistakes,” which she dances to with abandon.
After her performance, Van Etten — still in her leather pants and slicked-down hair, holding a coconut water from the green room — returns sidestage to watch Olsen bring Big Time to rousing life alongside her six-piece band. Van Etten taps her feet to the music and sings along to new favorites like “Right Now” and old ones like “Shut Up Kiss Me.” Once Olsen finishes, she leads her group back out for the encore and introduces Van Etten to run through “Like I Used To” and a cover of “Without You” (Harry Nilsson, not Mariah Carey). “It’s just nice to come up there and see you in all your glory,” Van Etten tells Olsen later. “I feel like a proud sister.”