The Art School is packed as New Jersey singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten takes to the small stage for her hotly anticipated Glasgow show. The gig has been sold out for months and the temperature is almost unbearable.
Opening with ‘Afraid of Nothing’ and ‘Taking Chances’ from her excellent latest album Are We There, she’s backed by a solid and studious group of guitar, bass and drums; but it’s when her voice harmonizes with that of her keyboard player that the songs become truly transcendent. The setlist reflects Are We There’s popularity; almost half of its tracks appear tonight, though the most anticipated moment has to be ‘Serpents’ from breakthrough second album Tramp, which is given a noisy rendition reminiscent of Dry-era PJ Harvey.
Her elegant rasp has touches of Kate Bush and Patti Smith but even after collaborating with the likes of The Antlers and The National, Van Etten is an endearingly amateurish performer – forgetting the lyrics to ‘I Wish I Knew’ and struggling with her omnichord.
The only time this threatens the immersiveness of the show is her onstage banter; New Jersey humour falls rather flat in Glasgow.
Tonight her best songs are those delivered with a loose country charm reminiscent of Highway 61-era Dylan, highlighting the consistency and quality of her songwriting without sacrificing charm for didacticism.
‘Your Love is Killing Me’ is as spine-tingling as ‘I Don’t Want to Let You Down’ is mournful; Van Etten is a masterful craftswoman when it comes to spinning confusion and heartbreak into alt-pop gems, in a way that contrasts her occasionally scattergun stage persona.
If she’s to grow further as a performer, she may have to excise some of these elements from her performance. Still, ultimately it all comes back to the songs and these are uniformly top notch and at the end of her hour long set the audience depart into the night well satisfied.
[Max Sefton – @MaxSefton]