Set against faded blue lighting and with barely a nod of introduction Sharon van Etten and band strike up ‘Warsaw’ and set the mood for the evening at once.
It’s a slow burner, a song that seems to go nowhere but creeps up the gears as verse turns to verse turns to verse.
The same might be said about a lot of the songs tonight but, as with new album Tramp, this quiet quality is what drives van Etten’s sound.
Van Etten is an oddly un-engaging figure in-between songs, struggling to interact with the crowd while tuning, but she is at her best talking about the music.
She describes ‘Give Out’ as a song about moving to New York and understanding a difficult relationship before delivering an engrossing, vulnerable performance.
Lyrics like “it’s not because I always give up/it might be I always give out” have a sadness and a knowing quality that somehow suits the music to perfection and shows some real excellence in songwriting.
Amid all the grungey guitars it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always thus.
Previous albums are more folksy affairs and when the band exit the stage to leave van Etten alone beneath the spotlight she picks up the acoustic guitar.
‘Much More Than This’ is a sad little song that relies entirely on the voice to provide impact.
Perhaps it’s just because we can hear said voice in isolation but on swooning choruses and understated verses it’s a stunning solo performance and quite removed from the songs that had gone before.
And then there’s ‘Serpents’ - even the first few strums of the introduction draw a ripple of anticipation from the crowd before the songs crashes into existence.
With thunderous drumming and overdriven guitars throughout the song is a complete change of pace from the rest of the set.
Van Etten is as the eye of the storm, her vocals floating beautifully across the chaos as the song thumps to a conclusion and huge ovation from the crowd.
But the trouble with having a song that stands out quite so much as that one is where to go next.
Nothing in the rest of the set can quite reach those heights and we’re back to what might be considered ‘the album tracks’ to fill out the evening, but maybe that’s OK.
The songs set moods where others would want to set feet dancing.
There’s great reward in the slow build of Sharon van Etten’s set for those with the patience to go with it.
Words: Alastair Mitchell
Photos: Warrick Beyers