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If this show being rescheduled from October to December so Sharon Van Etten could perform on Later… with Jools Holland, wasn’t a good enough indicator of her progression in the music world, then the ever increasing sizes of her London shows definitely prove it. She has moved from the Cargo and Scala to Shepherds Bush Empire in just 9 months. She’s had a busy year, which started with the release of her outstanding third album Tramp, and continued with countless live shows in countless countries. This, as she later notes in disbelief from the stage, is her and her band’s sixth trip to Europe of the year.

As she stands in the view of the venues multiple balconies the set begins with “All I Can”, which builds slowly and allows her band’s sound to bloom around her. They follow it with Sharon going electric for the more warped Tramp opener “Warsaw”, and then into the light country rock of “Save Yourself”, from her second album Epic. “Give Out” is gorgeous and Van Etten demonstrates that she now has the confidence she craves for in the lyrics. The confidence she knew she would need to move to New York: “I wrote this song when I decided to move to New York. I’m still not sure that was a good idea… Well, I’ll think about that in my own time…”. She says breaking her initial all business approach, Sharon appears to have overcome feelings of self-consciousness whilst singing but apparently still feels it when addressing the crowd. Even though she seems enjoy it, she tries to get a move on and just play, despite the crowd loving her funny, affable and somewhat goofy stage manner.

Her and keyboardist/backup singer Heather Woods Broderick’s voices harmonise perfectly on the masculine titled duo of “Leonard” and “Kevin’s”, but midway through the set her band members leave her alone on stage as she performs a solo version of a new song she is working on. The audience remaining deathly quiet as she sings the devastating, vulnerable and violent lyrics about the regret she feels for letting a former lover control her. She sings: “break my legs so I won’t walk to you, stab my eyes so I can’t see that you like it, when I let you walk over me”. It was weighty but incredible, and the lyrics are likely aimed at the same ex that the majority of her other songs are. It might be her most direct and dark song about that period of her life.

“Serpents” is explosive, fun and loud. Putting a match to the emotional and introspective powder keg that Van Etten and her band had flawlessly assembled. Her voice remained unaffected by the illness she claimed to have, and an audience shout even questioned its legitimacy. The main set closed with the two closers from Tramp. The band played “I’m Wrong” as a systematic frenzy of melody, with Sharon playing the distortion from her pedals over drummer Zeke Hutchins ringing cymbal bell patterns. After the song’s giant crescendo and as Doug Keith’s violin bow guided guitar distortion bleeds away, Sharon slices through the crashing tones and plays the beautiful opening guitar chords of “Joke or a Lie” as the dust settles. Her repeated singing of the refrain isn’t even interrupted as someone sneezes during one of the song’s most quiet moments, Sharon adds a “bless you” to the lyrics and quickly eases everyone back into the song’s magic.

She finally breaks out her stage banter as she returns for an encore, prefacing a performance of “Ask” with the funny story of its awkward date origins. A loud blast of noise caused by some unseen failing sound equipment concludes the song, which Sharon meets with a fist pump. “We saved the fireworks for the end”. But the real conclusion is a stunning version of “Love More” from Epic. Complete, finally, with a Harmonium. Another clear sign that she is becoming more successful, as she had to apologise for, and make do with, its absence at her previous UK shows. It’s a perfect ending to a fantastic set and year for Sharon Van Etten. The stages are getting bigger, but her personal lyrics and beautiful voice can make any venue seem intimate.

5/5

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