When Sharon Van Etten plays a solo version of Sunshine on Leith mid-way through a set that mixes up the martial electronica of her recent Remind Me Tomorrow album with bar-room indie-rock confessionals, The Proclaimers’ anthemic lament prompts a mixture of noisy surprise, sing-a-long rapture and at least one grown man shedding a tear.
Van Etten says that when she first heard the song growing up in New Jersey, it changed her life. Given the raw truth of pretty much everything she’s ever sung, there’s no reason to disbelieve this most honest of artists. She’d entered in darkness, her voice at odds with the brooding fizz of the opening Jupiter 4 and the industrial sturm und drang of Comeback Kid and No One’s Easy to Love. Only when she strapped on a red guitar for One Day from her 2010 Epic album could you hear her city cow-girl roots.
Epic is a title which seemed to predict where Van Etten is at now. A slight but powerful presence, Van Etten has come through the mill enough to buy birthday cake for her tour manager in Mimi’s Bakehouse and perform with an all-embracing sense of self-possessed joy. This is driven by Devin Hoff’s meaty bass, the thwack of Jorge Balbi’s drums and twin synths of Charley Damski and Heather Woods Broderick. Van Etten is bathed in blue light for the slow drawl of Tarifa, shares lovely harmonies with Broderick on All I Can and claws the air inbetween rippling her other hand through mini tubular bells during Memorial Day.
“As angry as we sound, we are so happy,” says Van Etten after Broderick’s FX wigout on Malibu segues into the thunder of Hands prior to that Proclaimers moment. The Springsteenesque wisdom and experience of Seventeen, the tortured self-awareness of Every Time the Sun Comes Up and the simple plea of Stay all seem to belie Van Etten’s words. If they sound like purging, the beautiful intimacy of I Told You Everything ends the night with pure heart and soul redemption.
The Herald, August 22nd 2019