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Sharon Van Etten – Koko, London 05/06/14

06 June 2014, 17:41 | Written by The Line of Best Fit

Inasmuch as is possible, Sharon Van Etten is an artist that elucidates raw emotion. Tonight at her sold-out gig at Koko there are no elaborate set pieces, no strobing lights - it conveys more a gathering of friends than a performance. The singer, whose fourth album Are We There was released only a few weeks back, is unafraid of inscribing herself into her audience, this method epitomised by opener “Afraid of Nothing” from her new LP. But it is her true self: a cocktail of sadness and humour that is ultimately so triumphant this evening, all under the giant disco-ball of Koko.

Van Etten’s band take to the stage with humbleness rather than bravado. The songwriter apologies almost instantly for being a little under the weather and notifying everyone of the box of tissues next to her for precaution. Yet any doubts about her ability to sing being hindered tonight are immediately dismissed, with even the piercing harmonies that shine through on record in “Taking Chances” being perfectly replicated on stage.

Though it isn’t until “Don’t Do It” that the show truly lifts off, the song’s undisguised melancholy wrenching the crowd with all holding belief in every word she sings. “Look me in the eyes, say you can’t do it”, she strains, converting the mass through her seeming effortlessness. Yet Van Etten’s strength lies in her humbleness and voice full of pain and cynicism, which evokes a true artistic authenticity; not without humour though, she quips “Dat ass” between songs in complement to her bandmate Heather, the banter alive and healthy throughout the show. “I love you!” screams some bloke in the audience. “Dad?” she responds mockingly, before telling all that her parents have actually turned up to some of her shows uninvited on this tour, notably Dublin, before leading everyone in a loud chant of “one-two-three, Dublin!” Her humorous connection with fans is indubitable.

“Serpents”, the lead off of the singer’s stellar 2012 LP Tramp, gets the most magnetic reception of the evening as the distorted intro subtly translates into the gentle strum of Van Etten’s electric guitar. The song already feels like a classic - one that you’d imagine a newcomer to her this evening would recognise immediately as the responsive high notes hit. Full of passion, “Serpents” is followed by “Your Love is Killing Me” from Are We There, the tune perfectly complementing its predecessor’s rolling intensity. Van Etten subsequently leaves the crowd aching for more after beautiful set closer “Every Time the Sun Comes Up”. Not a phone is raised aloft for the duration (as far as this reviewer can see) as the crowd stare transfixed and lovers hold each other in arms.

Clearly taken aback by her audience, the singer likely thought this show would be a disaster with her state of health, yet she manages to turn it into a triumph. Following an encore of two piano ballads, “I Love You But I’m Lost” and “I Know”, Van Etten creates a wondrous intimacy that is true to herself. Stunning with the latter tune on Jools Holland last week, here there is hardly a dry eye in sight as all are in awe of her bold effort to illuminate the pains of heartbreak and loss. Van Etten leaves the stage so appreciative, herself shocked by how much of a triumph tonight has been. Even in her groggy state all fall a bit in love with her, and by the standard this evening the feeling seems more than mutual.

  • Review by Sam Warner
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