May 18, 2012
Live: Sharon Van Eten @ Scala, 16/05/2012.
We’re a bunch of nobodies,” claims Sharon Van Etten, the Brooklyn singer-songwriter whose frank, introspective material is the reason Scala is full to the hilt tonight. “The fact that a bunch of somebodies came to see us is mind-blowing.” It may come across as throwaway mid-song banter, but it’s delivered with the same genuine sense of humility that hangs over everything Van Etten does during this, the opening night of her latest European tour.
The deeply personal nature of her lyrics may account for the rather bashful way she holds herself on stage, but it never impedes her performance, which is at once polished and delightfully heavy on impulse.
The slightly more saccharine tracks, including opener ‘All I Can’, have their place, but the bewitching melodies and self-confessional airs of ‘Warsaw’ and the stunning ‘Give Out’ are where Van Etten really finds her stride. Between songs, the humbly sweet awkwardness continues: a bit of sheepish gratitude towards a recently acquired guitar tech here, a sly joke about misheard lyrics there (“my dad asks me if I sometimes get bored and say ‘pizza signs,’” she chuckles after a moving version of ‘Peace Signs’. “I don’t”).
A hesitant introduction to ‘Kevin’’s brings smiles between Van Etten and keyboard player/backing vocalist Heather Woods Broderick, as if the front woman is enjoying the reassurances of having a backing band with her this time around. ‘Give Out’ — prefaced with the explanatory disclaimer “this is more of a story than my other stories” — elicits one of the evening’s biggest applauses, while the rest of the band slink away during a solo performance of ‘Tornado’, leaving Van Etten to nervously laugh that she’d quietly fired and rehired them upon their return for a ferocious version of the fantastic ‘Serpents’.
Material from Tramp features heavily, a practical inevitability due to their reliance on a full band to flesh them out, and Aaron Dessner’s production work on that album clearly pays off with the arrangements, lending even the more hackneyed country folk of ‘Leonard’ and ‘I’m Wrong’ a much-needed layer of grit. Black and white visuals swirl behind them, making their mark most poignantly during the washes of reverb and delicate breakdowns of ‘Joke or a Lie’, which appears here in a far lengthier form than the version that closes Tramp.
The humbleness continues as the band reappear for an encore of ‘One Day’ and ‘Love More’, Van Etten claiming surprise at the fact that no one left – something it appears she’s going to have to get used to on the rest of this tour in the wake of Tramp’s success.
Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON