Live at St George’s Church, Brighton
Some venues are a perfect match for the occasion and this was the case with St George’s church. The 19th century listed building certainly provided a very intimate atmospheric backdrop for the evening’s music; American singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten supported by blues musician Marisa Anderson. To say Anderson is an accomplished guitarist would be a gross understatement. She can take an electric six string and bring out such a big full-textured sound that it's almost orchestral. Alone on the stage she explained the inclusion of each track and the stories behind them with a dry kind of self-deprecation. Without the need for lyrics or vocals Anderson interpreted gospel numbers, folk songs and a medley of “Church and State” pieces via finger picking and a lot of slide. Some of the tracks had roots in religious songs despite her self-professed lack of religious leanings, but the melodies came before the lyrics and as she put it, “the musical melody will live on long after the words have been forgotten.” Regardless of origins it sounded pretty good and it suited the venue well. Her own writing was equally as good and the final one was a great story about being lost at a bluegrass festival when she was eighteen and high on shrooms. It sounds exactly as she described it. After wishing the crowd a ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ Sharon Van Etten and her band began with “Afraid of Nothing” the opening track from her most recent album. I was hooked from the first note. Most of the tracks were from her self-produced 2014 album Are We There and its predecessor Tramp. All had those same acutely observed, emotional, and occasionally violent, lyrics you would expect from Van Etten, like she mined some deep, dark place to create them. What was unexpected was how Van Etten wooed the audience with girlish charm while still delivering songs of such depth and genuine storytelling. It was a contradiction that worked really well. Mid set the lead guitarist, Doug, broke a string during “Your Love Is Killing Me” through ‘rocking too hard’. The upside of that accident was a beautiful solo number from Van Etten which more than made up for the hitch. Throughout, the band were excellent, melting layers together to produce sublime sounds, particularly an ethereal, harmony-rich version of “Our Love”. The only disappointing part was the absence of “Serpents” and “Every Time The Sun Comes Up” on the setlist but it was barely noticeable. A reluctant encore meant that Van Etten returned alone for a piano ballad and the audience left their seats to crowd the stage. There was a lot of love in the house. But then that’s what you would expect from Sharon Van Etten, her songs will break your heart so beautifully and so gently that you won’t even realise and you’ll enjoy every bittersweet note.