27th March | SWX
Photos: Jessica Bartolini
Sharon Van Etten moves and poses across the stage with an unbridled, progressive force. So much so that the opening tracks of her set felt like an evocative assault.
Critics have been regularly praising Van Etten’s new record, Remind Me Tomorrow, and the evolution of her sound from previous records to this one. Constant references have been made in reviews to a busy schedule, her openness about damaging relationships, filming series two of the Netflix sci-fi drama, The OA, raising her young son and recording an album with a totally new take on her sound.
With a greater influence of electronic music and an ambition of arena rock, she constantly reminds us about looking forward and rising from the ashes, like on ‘Comeback Kid’. It carries over into her performance through her striking stares into the crowd, geometric poses and powerful live arrangements.
However, she doesn’t look to totally burn down the past. After powering through the opening three tracks, she picked up Ruby, her guitar, and began to dig into her back catalogue. Many songs from this are heart-wrenching songs that talk about what has happened, rather than what will or can happen next. She took time to acknowledge that fans of the new record may not care for the more stripped-down songs of old, likewise that older fans may have arrived hoping for a simpler Van Etten set.
The duality of past and present in Van Etten’s set, stylistically and musically, occasionally felt like a nostalgia grab on songs like, ‘Seventeen’, where she pointed to the crowd that we were young once and the spectre of youth looms over us all. The earnestness of her sentiments is there in the lyrics, but it’s brought to the surface when you read between the lines and into the back story of Van Etten.
Throughout the set, she fluidly moved between the keyboard and guitar, but with her hands free, behind the microphone, she had the most power to orchestrate and breath genuine life into a style of singer-songwriter rock that can often feel stale and dreary in a back-of-a-café open mic. Van Etten makes the stage feel so much bigger than it is, in a Springsteen-like way.
She is so distinct and calculated in how she carries her performance, donning all black, barring a plain white t-shirt. During the occasional breaks in songs she gushes, thanking the crowd for their support and sticking with her since her debut album, Because I Was In Love, in 2009, but quickly returns to her on-stage persona.
Van Etten’s new sound also asks the listener to consider why they listen to songs about someone else’s heartbreak. We listen to music to better understand our own troubles and to relate to someone on an intimate, but anonymous, level. In the end, we are seeking this through the heartache of another. I can’t help but wonder whether she enjoys digging into the past any longer at a time where she so clearly wants to accelerate into the future.
See the video for ‘Jupiter 4’ here: