Search The Line of Best Fit
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A night on the brink of tears in Leeds with Sharon Van Etten

28 April 2015, 09:00 | Written by Joe Goggins

We’ve now had almost a year with Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There, and as the time passes, the more outrageous it seems that, in some quarters, the jury might still have been out on her prodigious songwriting ability prior to its release. Tramp was met with universally positive reviews back in 2012, but much of the coverage seemed to lavish as much praise on the production work by Aaron Dessner of The National and the record’s various collaborators as it did Van Etten’s songcraft. With Are We There, recorded in relative seclusion with a tight-knit band, she finally received the credit she’d long deserved, without any caveats.

The sheer emotional intensity of Van Etten’s work has often been at odds with the witty, giggly persona presented in interviews; tonight, as she and her band take the stage, she slurs “don’t blow it!” in a deliberately-strong New York accent before launching into “Afraid of Nothing”, a gorgeously honest take on her struggles with anxiety. Similarly, Leeds' Brudenell Social Club - which is exactly what it sounds like, an old-fashioned working men’s club that just so happens to host international touring bands on an almost nightly basis - is by no means the most obvious venue to play host to epic tales of heartbreak, but the intimacy that it affords Van Etten on the first of two nights here makes it a surprisingly neat fit for her.

The setlist doesn’t lean all that heavily on Are We There, and it’s testament to the obvious rapport between the band that they can weave the likes of “Taking Chances” and “Tarifa” around “Give Out” and “Warsaw” so smartly during the opening stages. Unsurprisingly, new cut “I Don’t Want to Let You Down” - from the forthcoming EP of the same name - makes an appearance at the midpoint, but it’s another as-yet unreleased track that steals the show - one that she’s never played publicly before, that she’d forgotten about until stumbling across it whilst moving house recently. It’s a raw acoustic number, that she doesn’t name, but does explain that the only person she’d played it to previously - a musician friend by the name Mike Skinner (not that one) - had died last September. It's a viscerally emotional performance that had Van Etten on the brink of tears; anything that can overshadow “Your Love Is Killing Me”, aired later on, in that respect has to be powerful in the extreme.

On the whole, though, tonight’s mood is warm and celebratory; this is a venue with a long history of bringing the best out of its performers, and Van Etten and her band seem genuinely happy to be here. When she closes the encore with Tramp deep cut “Ask”, she follows the line “it hurts too much to laugh about it” with a quipped “except tonight”; bands never seem to tire of trotting out the cliche that touring is the reward after the difficult task of making a record, but Van Etten, on tonight's evidence genuinely embodies that spirit.

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