Listening to Sharon Van Etten’s records, one would imagine her live performances to be ceremonies, seriously emotional and personal statements. Well tonight, the New Jersey born and Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter seems so overjoyed to finally play in Ireland (with her parents being there to support her) that we could easily forget the hard times she’s been through (Living homeless for a year and a half, being dumped) before releasing her acclaimed third album Tramp. All through the evening the contrast between Sharon’s joking, charming mood and the incredible fragility and bitterness of her songs is a kind of mystery. The show goes back and forth between her last two records, Epic and Tramp, with great emotional highlights ‘All I Can’, ‘Give Out’, ‘Don’t Do It’ played with precision and heart by a woman who often promises everyone that she “will try not to fuck this one up”.
Everyone claps to encourage her as if she was a newcomer just playing for an open mike evening. She looks stunned by such a warm welcome, and the respectful audience, gifting her most quiet tracks with a religious silence like on country-folk ballad ‘Kevin’s’ that she plays alone before the band comes in half-way. The band behind her can take credit, as a whole, for pushing Sharon’s songs into something more grandiose and heartwarming with an even more dense sound than on her albums; keyboardist and back vocalist Heather Woods Broderick is the one that stands out thanks to her pure and soothing voice. The complicity between these two is obvious and when a vocal harmony really works like on the beautiful and moving piano-driven ‘Ask’ , Sharon winks at Heather as if she was still amazed by their chemistry.
The gig ends with the fascinating drony duo ‘I’m Wrong’ and ‘Love More’, this time played not on her harmonium but with guitars (“a problem at the airport” she explains). Thankfully they sound as strong as their original versions can be, spreading in obsessive mantras as everyone’s attention is focused on every word she sings and the harmonies seem to stop time. For a first appearance on Irish soil, it’s a well-deserved success for Van Etten.