THERE is something strange and disarming about the contrast between the deeply anguished lyrical content of Sharon Van Etten’s magisterially constructed songs and her agreeably cheerful demeanor as a live performer.
Sharon Van Etten
The Art School, Glasgow
Impishly joking around with her audience between songs, the New Jersey alt-folk/rock singer-songwriter – who has been endorsed by or collaborated with everyone from Nick Cave to members of The National, War on Drugs and Bon Iver – seemed like she could barely have been happier nor more grateful to be onstage. At one point she paused to thank everyone down to the Art School chef who had made her dinner.
And yet, her music went to such dark and troubled places as to suggest a far more serious individual could be its architect. Opener Give Out storied self-esteem crushed by a callous lover in heartbreaking details like “I always look down”. Her eventual main set closer, understatedly introduced as being “not very nice”, played in gruesome figurative detail on its title Your Love Is Killing Me. Even the “vaguely positive” song with which she indulged the person who inappropriately insisted on drunkenly screaming after a birthday shout out was self-doubtingly called I Don’t Want To Let You Down.
To hear all of the above and more so beautifully realised, with sympathetic backing from an excellent four-piece band, was gripping. Van Etten switched between acoustic and electric guitar and keys throughout, but her voice is by far her most effective instrument – a siren’s call that swelled and surged and finally dashed itself on the rocks with the towering Serpents, a dramatic sign-off to a wonderful show.
Seen on 25.11.14