Music review: Sharon Van Etten, St Luke’s, Glasgow

Van Etten's powerful, dramatic and exquisitely poised show was a very different offering from her last appearance in Scotland
Van Etten's powerful, dramatic and exquisitely poised show was a very different offering from her last appearance in Scotland
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IT’S been almost five years since Sharon Van Etten last played live in Scotland and a lot has happened in her life since then – she’s had her first child, she’s made forays into acting and she’s started studying towards becoming a mental health counsellor.

Sharon Van Etten

St Luke’s, Glasgow

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IT’S been almost five years since Sharon Van Etten last played live in Scotland and a lot has happened in her life since then – she’s had her first child, she’s made forays into acting and she’s started 
studying towards becoming a mental health counsellor.

The New Yorker is neither the same person nor the same 
performer as she was back then, and it showed in this powerful, dramatic and exquisitely poised show, which felt like a product of real artistic and personal growth.

Opening with a trio of songs from her vintage synths-adorned new album Remind Me Tomorrow – the dark, droning Jupiter 4, the surging Comeback Kid and the almost Garbage-esque No One’s Easy To Love – Van Etten prowled the stage illuminated by atmospheric theatrical up-lighting which cast long shadows over the plain white backdrop.

It was only when she came to play a much older song, 
sweeping Americana strum One Day, that she strapped on a guitar, though her sense of timeless melody and lyrics that pull no punches remained a constant whichever instruments she chose to colour her songs with.

Hugged by the tightest of harmonies from Heather Woods Broderick, Van Etten’s voice was a thing of real wonder, and it rose to fierce crescendo during the fearsomely heavy Hands. Yet whenever she addressed the audience between songs she was like a different person – sweet, funny, down to earth, full of gratitude for the full house despite it being so long since she was last in town.

“G’an yersel Shazza!” shouted one audience member – an affectionate nickname which Van Etten has been happy to accept among British and Antipodean fans.

A solo piano cover of Sinéad O’Connor Black Boys On Mopeds starkly conveyed a mother’s worry of raising a son in what feels like an ever more hostile world. The rushing Seventeen brought some much-needed emotional levity before Van Etten’s best known song Every Time The Sun Comes Up – a Springsteen-inspired by turns dark and funny rumination on humdrum life – cast its gentle spell on the audience.

“Don’t make me cry before it’s over!” she protested, as a spontaneous round of cheers, foot stamping and applause rose up around the room. 
Emerging out of a storm of drones and feedback, a snarling version of Serpents set things up for slow-burning finale and a “message of love”, as Van Etten put it, in the form of Love More – her achingly sad dissection of an emotionally abusive relationship, and the path to leaving it behind.

MALCOLM JACK