Friday, May 18, 2012
SHARON VAN ETTEN @ DEAF INSTITUTE 17 May 2012
This was only Sharon van Etten’s second visit to Manchester, the first being “four years ago when I played solo”. Heather Woods Broderick from three-piece backing band had been to the Deaf Institute before however with Efterklang: “it was Fancy Dress Halloween AND we had a robot war”. Well tonight may not have contained kick-ass battling androids but it was special and memorable in its own way.
I’m normally uninterested in a musician’s appearance but I was surprised to see Sharon van Etten was in 3.5 inch stiletto heels, black lacy top, red lipstick and generously applied eyeliner - my expectation was she would be as plain-dressed and monochrome as most of her press photos depict her, and that she would let her confessional songs doing the talking. Well I was half-right. ‘All I Can’ was an excellent choice of opener – a start-small, soul-bearing honesty that builds and builds into an heavy-duty, anthemic thump. Most of the set tonight, ten out of eleven songs, was from this year’s album "Tramp" which has a fuller, more atmospherically orchestrated sound. And the band – Doug Keith on guitars and Zeke Hutchins on drums completed the line-up - felt hand-picked to replicate that sound live with intricate and precise playing, multiple instrument swaps, a wedge of effects pedals and even some looped vocals and percussion.
Their studious playing contrasted well with the relaxed bonhomie between the players and with Van Etten sweetly chatty between songs – talking about quitting smoking, thanking the supports, apologising for tuning up. She was not as shy or reticent as I had heard or expected but there was a slightly gauche girlishness to her banter. Again I foolishly expected the stern and battle-hardened warrior of relationships fought, won and lost. And there was plenty of this on show – and vulnerability, raw pain and forgiveness – but it was all channelled into her songs.
The main set ended with ‘I’m Waiting’ segueing into ‘ Joke Or A Lie’. For the first part, Doug Keith used a violin bow across his guitar strings before pressing up against his amp for some epic Sonic Youth noise before this ebbed away into the sparse and direct second song. It was cleverly theatrical but still allowed both songs to speak directly to the audience. I missed not having more quieter, acoustic numbers (and no ‘Peace Signs’!) but despite a focused brevity to the set this still felt like a substantial banquet. It was also good to find that Sharon Van Etten is neither a robot nor a tortured wreck in real life, and in fact a pleasantly well-adjusted normal person who’s not adverse to a bit of slap and glam. And of course it is her heart-wrenching songs that tower high, with no heels needed for extra lift.
The Set List:
All I Can
Don’t Do It
Joke Or A Lie