Sharon Van Etten - Brudenell Social Club Leeds, UK - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Sharon Van Etten - Brudenell Social Club Leeds, UK

by Andy Brown Rating:7 Release Date:2012-01-09

There’s been a buzz around Sharon Van Etten for some time now and this weekend sees the New Yorker sell-out two consecutive nights at the Brudenell Social Club. Van Etten’s subtle, confessional songs have been gaining her fans since 2009 debut album, Because I Was in Love.

Wider recognition came with the more polished, heart-on-sleeve melancholia of 2012s Tramp LP. Encouragingly, last year's Are We There contained some of her strongest work to date.  

In many ways, it’s heartening to think that an artist like Van Etten could gain such appeal. There’s no huge hit single to draw the casual listener in, rather a steadily building, word-of-mouth excitement around these songs of heartbreak and experience.

Before Van Etten takes to the stage we’re introduced to the experimental folk stylings of Vermont’s Sam Amidon. Amidon flits between instruments and styles, from banjo-based folk-tales to surprisingly discordant violin pieces. There’s a communal, welcoming air to the set, especially when Amidon gets the crowd to sing along (we’re asked to sing “sometimes” on mass and it’s pretty effective at getting everyone involved).

The musical highlights come with the little unexpected moments, the contributions of drummer Chris Vatalaro adding edge to songs that might otherwise drift a little too harmlessly along. After all the musical variation on display, it’s still a rather beautiful cover of Tears for Fears' ‘Head Over Heels’ that gets to me the most. Clearly an artist of considerable talent, Amidon is definitely worth a look live.

Sharon Van Etten’s relaxed, disarming presence counteracts the more heart-breaking elements of her songs and she’s clearly stoked to be on her second night headlining at the Brudenell (who wouldn’t be?). The band open with a selection of tracks from last year’s LP. ‘Afraid of Nothing’  stands as a strong opening gesture, yet it’s the subtle groove of ‘Taking Chances’ that really gets things started. It’s often when Van Etten’s songs stray from ballad territory that the set really comes alive, the hypnotic, breathless shuffle of ‘Taking Chances’ being a prime example.  

There’s a definite sheen to the band's performance, and while this works well with some songs you can’t help but pine for a little more rawness and sonic variation in the instrumentation. After all, these songs are emotionally raw. The heart of the performance lies in Van Etten’s voice, a subtle and undeniably powerful timbre that brings all the appropriate force to lines such as, “Break my legs so I won’t walk to you/ Cut my tounge so I can’t talk to you” (from the achingly fantastic ‘Your Love is Killing Me’).

‘Serpent’ stands as another highlight, the hurt, angry lyrics and rawer musical backdrop giving us a glimpse at the passion lying under the predominantly soothing set as Van Etten sings: “You enjoy sucking on dreams/ so I will fall asleep with someone other than you/ I had a thought you would take me seriously”. The lyrics are often crucial to these compositions and give the songs their emotional momentum.  

Overall, the music could do with an injection of rawness to match the songs subject matter. The instrumentation sometimes manifests as a pleasant, unobtrusive wash-of-sound when a less polished approach would do the songs justice. Parts of the set seem to drift by (albeit pleasantly), lacking the musical oomph to engage thoroughly.

The set's finest moments come when Van Etten’s voice soars over the band, melting even the stoniest heart with ease and portraying the passionate, emotional honesty at the heart of her songs. 

Comments (2)

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She strikes me as being a pretty straight up indie chick who writes good songs, and sings them with passion. Would love to have been there !

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It was good, just needed less of a sheen on some of the music

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