I’ll never forget the first time I heard Sharon Van Etten sing. I’d been reading an article about The National’s “Think You Can Wait” on which she provides guest vocals and at the bottom of the page was a link to her video of “For You” on YouTube. Clicking on it I was instantly hit by the delicate yet almost desolate beauty of her voice. I sat there transfixed for the two and a half minute runtime and instantly knew I had to get a copy of everything she had ever released.
Tonight the dark basement venue of the Oran Mor provided the perfect backdrop for Miss Van Etten to charm and instantly disarm a Glaswegian crowd with not only her stunning voice but also her endearing between song banter. A plethora of instruments littered a stage bathed in blue light as Sharon and her band appeared up the small set of stairs to welcome the crowd with a “hey thanks for coming tonight”. The gig started with the building hum of “All I Can”, her voice getting louder and more confident with each syllable sung. What was already becoming clear as the song clattered to a finish was the fact that the band she has assembled can play, and when need be can play loud.
As expected the set was heavily laden with songs from her wonderful new album “Tramp”, what I wasn’t expecting however was how talkative and funny she would be between songs. Not only did we get impressions of Mary Poppins and the Scientology challenged Tom Cruise, but also humorous interactions throughout the night with a few of the more vocal, possibly more inebriated members of the audience. After a lovely version of “Warsaw” she asked how to say thank you in Scottish and received the answer of “Cheers” which she proceeded to use a couple of times. She added “every time I say it I feel like I need a drink in my hand, oh you do have a drink in yours, I normally do as well”.
Taking acoustic guitar in hand she introduced “Give Out” by saying it was a love song of sorts about moving to New York and letting yourself love again, adding a moment of silence for effect she then wryly offered into the microphone “ think about that for a minute, I need a moment, I’m a serious person”. Her comedic timing much like the song itself was flawless; it’s one of those songs with a hypnotic roll to it which is only magnified live, even if you wanted to it would be hard to draw your gaze away from the stage.
“Magic Chords” which is played on a strange looking machine called an Omnichord, which Sharon said was a kind of Casio version of an Autoharp followed and sounded beautiful. It’s where her voice sounded at its most sultry with her elongated howls on words such as “lead” and “breathe”. For a song she had just confessed to originally not wanting on the record it provided one of the vocal highlights of the gig (thank god she or someone else changed her mind). Worrying that “cheers” would start to sound insincere if she kept repeating it over and over again she took a little trip to thanks and gracias via slanj and locheim. She needn’t have worried though as I’m sure no one in the room tonight would ever think anything she said was anything but sincere.
A programmed loop of a pre recorded haunting vocal wail kicked off “Don’t Do It” and it’s on songs like this that you really appreciate how tight the band are and that they actually make a big old fashioned god damn noise. It also went a long way to prove that Sharon doesn’t only exist in the realm of “folk” songstress but is now a fully fledged rock star in her own right. After receiving a rapturous round of applause she offered a finger point to the crowd and said “If I could take a picture of fun and put it in the dictionary this would be under there, it doesn’t happen all the time in this context so thanks” (it’s always nice to be appreciated).
It then came to the point in the set where grown men, namely me had to try very hard to suppress an ever so manly tear from escaping out of their eye and rolling down their cheek. As the band left Sharon on stage with only her guitar for company she played a haunting solo version of “Much More Than That” from her debut album “Because I Was In Love”. It really was a stunning performance and as she sang “my toe hit your toe lightly, your toe met my heel right back, and I don’t think I need much more than that” that tear suppression was teetering on the brink. Anyway guns, football, red meat, Scarlett Johansson’s arse at the start of Lost in Translation, Christina Hendricks, Ron Swanson, phew faux facade of manliness somewhat restored.
The band then returned to the stage to run through a few more numbers from “Tramp“. Firstly her song about Leonard Burnstein which is indeed titled “Leonard” to avoid confusion. This was followed by a soaring version of “Serpents“, which Sharon let us know was the first song she had ever written on electric guitar. It definitely benefited from having a full band sound resonating around it and sounded powerful and engulfing.
The banter between Sharon and the crowd continued as she introduced her band. As she got to keyboardist/backing vocalist Heather, one member of the audience took it on himself to make his appreciation of her talents known with a shout of “Hello Heather” in a gruff not totally non-sleazy Scottish drawl. Sharon seemed to find this very amusing remarking “I really hope someone is recording the show, because I want that for my ringtone”
Another must have clocked the bow clutched in her guitarists hand and enquired why he had it in his possession. She intimated to us that “he was going to do something great with it in a minute” clarifying “it’s not dirty or anything” to which the same guy replied “where’s the fun in that” to fits of sporadic laughter around the room. Probably the less I say about the amount of cymbal rimming that also went on in “I’m Wrong” the penultimate song of the night the better. It was however fair to say that even though it wasn’t from her album “Epic” it was worthy of the name. They bowed and strummed and smashed their way to a banging climax (no sexual innuendo intended) that “The National” or “Arcade Fire” would be proud of. Bidding us farewell with an “enjoy the rest of your evening, I hope it’s a dance party” she disappeared into the darkness to a deafening round of applause, which soon turned into a deafening cheer for an encore. Of course she wouldn’t let us down and appeared back out of the ether to cap the evening off with a beguiling version of the outstanding “Love More”.
The fact that she didn’t play “Peace Signs”, “For You” or “One Day” just gives me another reason to go and see her again the next time she plays. To be honest though more reasons are the last thing I need after tonight’s performance. In the future anytime I see the words Sharon Van Etten and Scotland written together I will be the first to get my debit card out and buy tickets. Cheers Sharon for a truly beautiful evening.
1) All I Can
3) Save Yourself
5) Give Out
6) Magic Chords
7) Life Of His Own
8) Don’t do It
9) Much More Than That
12) I’m Wrong
13) Love More