Sharon Van Etten | Live Review

Sharon Van Etten @ Trinity Centre, Bristol. 21.04.15.

Photos (c) Louise Brady

There’s a loveable awkwardness as Van Etten struggles to find the words to say in-between songs.

Armed initially with only his acoustic guitar and his gravelly Vermont voice Sam Amidon’s set opens with a subdued melancholy that is beautifully simple and instantly captivating. However, as the opening song dissipates amongst us the set takes an unexpected turn.

Amidon’s playing becomes rather shaky; he misses chords and engages in a vocal refrain that exists in a key outside of the twelve we’re accustomed to. The track devolves into a two-minute frenzy where Amidon beats notes from his guitar, his voice now a tortured scream as he tries to eek out the last high note on the neck of his guitar. And as quickly as it began he settles back into the original song as if the last two minutes never happened.

Songs regaling the hunt for a groundhog and bluegrass tales on the banjo display a complexity and proficiency to Amidon, which admittedly isn’t immediately apparent after his previous outburst. There’s even a rather humorous deadpan routine about Bruno Mars dropping out of playing drums for him in favour of a gig with Jimi Hendrix.

His humour and evident skill on guitar, banjo and fiddle compliments his rather scatterbrained performance, yet as he leaves the stage I’m torn. What was a genuinely interesting performance was still underpinned by a rather formulaic set of songs, songs that I would never seek out without the engaging live performance to go with them.

The crowd and stagehands go through the motions, I hear some audience members expressing surprise, joy and also annoyance at the antics of Sam Amidon’s set, which was understandably worlds apart from Miss Etten. However, feelings aside we all let out a rapturous cry as Sharon Van Etten finally appears on stage.

The silence is pierced by the tenderness of ‘Afraid of Nothing’, a song that embraces the audience with wide arms as perfect harmonies cascade over the room. The next forty-minutes are spent in an almost euphoric state as the set traverses old and new, each track preceded by Sharon’s humility and genuine gratefulness to all in attendance.

A shouted request for ‘Our Love’ is met with a rather candid “I honestly can’t sing that anymore, I’m always off key. But thanks for knowing that song!” There’s a loveable awkwardness as Van Etten struggles to find the words to say in between songs, a fact she’s well aware of. These moments make the experience that much more intimate and as the band briefly depart off stage leaving Van Etten to play a ‘work in progress’ the intimacy is ten-fold.

The final half-hour is perhaps the most memorable, the band expertly wielding the power they have over the audience. What could have been an explosive goodbye full of her most intense songs is instead a wonderful slow burn; each new song only clipping at the heels of those that preceded it. When the atmosphere in the room becomes taut enough to break ‘Your Love Is Killing Me’ snaps the audience in two, the crescendo erupting with a power unlike anything heard that evening. Endorphins course through my body and my hair stands on end and as Van Etten and co. close the evening with ‘Every Time The Sun Comes Up’ the euphoria finally takes over. Words fall short of describing the feeling, but tonight’s show will stay with me for a very long time, a sentiment I feel everyone in attendance can I agree upon.

Check out ‘Our Love’ right here:

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