fri 21/06/2024

Sharon van Etten, Oran Mor, Glasgow | reviews, news & interviews

Sharon van Etten, Oran Mor, Glasgow

Sharon van Etten, Oran Mor, Glasgow

A surprisingly light-hearted evening from one of 2012's more intense performers

Sharon van Etten: Brooklyn sorceress is secretly something of a comedian

It is sometimes hard to be enthused by midweek gigs. Last night was one of those occasions, at least for the 30 seconds I thought I was going to be watching most of the show on the iPhone screen of the six feet of beard that planked itself in front of me just in time for the music starting. Those are the nights you need, as Sharon van Etten might say, “something that’s hard to describe”.

Something that changes your mood, and makes you smile, and doesn’t happen all of the time. Something fun.

If you’re at all familiar with Tramp, the third album from Brooklyn-based van Etten which came out at the start of thea year, “fun” is hardly likely to be the first word you might reach for. Produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner in his home studio it’s an intense, bewitching affair, at times as hypnotic and all-consuming as Dessner’s own band at their best.

When she lets go she’s a sorceress, dark and guttural

Which is why it comes as something of a surprise to discover that the lady behind the songs is, once she gets going, something of a comedian; prone to terrible impressions of Mary Poppins or Tom Cruise between songs heavy with longing or the rage of escaping from an abusive relationship. She is told to say “cheers” between songs on asking what the “Scottish” for thank-you is, and her accent becomes progressively more terrible as the night wears on.

Shy at first, the distinction between van Etten’s soft-spoken voice and the magnificently expressive wail she lets rip with when she sings is jaw-dropping. She can sound as angelic as the voice that carried the high school choir: an effortlessly beautiful take on what my old singing teacher would call "head voice" but which always seemed to end up in a strange buzzing behind my teeth, mouth practically closed and distracted. But when she lets go she’s a sorceress, dark and guttural - sometimes even on the same song.

Two years ago, on her last trip to the UK, van Etten was a solo artist performing folk-inspired songs of longing - like the older one she performed unaccompanied, when the band left the stage. But for the most part it’s hard to imagine this music performed acoustic. “Serpents” and “Leonard”, the two most instantly recognisable songs from Tramp, took as much of their violence and power from the thudding drums and otherworldly harmonies as they did the melody or often ambiguous lyrics. “Don’t Do It” became a beast of a song, in which sampler overdubs of that extraordinary voice got caught up in a swirl of guitars and keys to create something huge and powerful and primal.

The show ended in a haze of feedback and blue, musicians scratching and scraping on cymbals and guitars with sticks and bows and anything else that fell to hand. Van Etten had succeeded in transforming the desultory midweek mood, chalking up a victory for the redeeming, refreshing power of live performance.

Listen to "Leonard"

The magnificently expressive wail she lets rip with when she sings is jaw-dropping


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article


Awesome review of an incredible evening.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters