Sharon Van Etten @ Leith Theatre, Edinburgh, 21 Aug
Once Sharon Van Etten finds her stride, she and her band prove an unstoppable force of nature at Edinburgh's Leith Theatre
There are several sides to Sharon Van Etten tonight, whose growth as an artist is as evident in her live performance as it is across her five studio albums. Her latest, Remind Me Tomorrow, came after a particularly prominent period of growth in Van Etten’s personal life.
During a four-year break from music prior to the release of Remind Me Tomorrow, Van Etten acted in Netflix series The OA, scored Katherine Dieckmann’s 2016 film Strange Weather (with Dieckmann later returning the favour and going on to direct the video for one of the album’s singles No One’s Easy to Love), pursued a degree in psychology and became a mother. This transitional period in Van Etten’s life became the crux of the record, and signified a shift in her music.
Aware of it being a particularly busy month in Edinburgh, Van Etten seems humbled at the huge turnout at Leith Theatre for her Edinburgh International Festival show. Opening with a triple-hitter of Jupiter 4, Comeback Kid and No One’s Easy to Love – all from Remind Me Tomorrow – Van Etten doesn’t seem to quite hit her stride until she’s addressed the crowd and become acquainted with the space. Once she has though, her performance exceeds all expectations.
There is a hugely endearing quality to Van Etten’s stage presence and her rapport with her band, which is only emphasised by the sharpness of their combined performance. Hands sees Van Etten ascend into full blown 70s-esque rock icon territory, led into via a prog rock-style jam at the conclusion of Malibu. Van Etten comments on having previously played the song to a seated audience and it being a predictably odd experience, much to the crowd’s amusement. This is just one moment when Van Etten’s humour really gets to shine.
Accompanied on backing vocals by tonight’s opening act Heather Woods Broderick, who Van Etten calls “one of my best friends”, the pair complement each other wonderfully as they trade harmonies to particularly stunning effect on the likes of One Day, from 2010’s Epic, and All I Can, from 2012’s outstanding Tramp. Later, during an encore of Don’t Do It and I Told You Everything this is demonstrated further, despite a false-start from Van Etten on the latter.
But the real heart of tonight’s show comes about halfway through when Van Etten’s band leave the stage and she remains alone just with her guitar, before introducing the next track, a cover, with high praise. “This record changed my life,” she proclaims, and as soon she sings the opening line of 'My heart was broken' the crowd well and truly lose their collective shit. Phones go up and out comes everyone’s thickest Scottish accents for the bellowed repeats of ‘sorrow’, as Van Etten performs The Proclaimers’ Sunshine On Leith in full.
If there’s anyone that could bring sunshine to Leith on a typically grey, rainy Scottish day Sharon Van Etten certainly can.