Photos: Gaelle Beri (@gaelleberi)
En route to tonight's show, a production brought to us by the Edinburgh International Festival, I popped along to the Edinburgh Book Festival, pushing my way through the Edinburgh Fringe. It is all happening in Edinburgh. After purchasing a trio of books (Lost Property by Laura Beatty for him, Heartland by Sarah Smarsh for me, a book of mermaid stickers for her) I took a slow bus across town to my favourite Edinburgh venue: Leith Theatre.
This time I was ushered in with kindness and not the usual ‘Uh, sorry, you’re not on the list, let me contact three other people to confirm you’re not a chancer.’ I was even given a direct email to the Press Photo officer. Amazing.
I arrived mid-set to hear opening act Heather Woods Broderick singing and playing keyboard. There was a little chat from Heather. She had wished she’d gone to art school here. (Dear reader, so did I, but I went somewhere else so it all worked out in the end). It also worked out in the end for Heather, quite clearly, as she has found different outlets for her creativity, right down to designing her band’s merchandise, which I admired after the show.
The group's set ended with Heather singing a heartfelt, room filling 'I Accept The Invitation.' It was actually quite moving. I’m sure we were all feeling glad that she had done.
Sharon Van Etten and crew kicked off their set with 'Jupiter 4', bathed in purple light with the added flare brought by a flashing red bulb. SVE was wearing a black and gold top with black jeans. She did a lot of air punching to the strong beats, like how you do when you’re really getting into a song. She did it with feeling. We all felt that.
It was at this point that I realised the usual drafty and cold Leith Theatre had all of her radiators turned up to Blazing Inferno – it was actually boiling in there. I’d also noticed a slight tarting up of the place as the walls were covered in long curtains. I love this venue for its shabby and at the same time majestic look. Like a woman in her 80s wearing big jewellery – she looks like she’s having an interesting life. You can’t help but wonder about her story.
‘Come Back Kid’ was met with enthusiasm possibly due to its familiarity brought by radio play. The theatre was packed at this point, filled mostly with men in the middle age, long haired twenty somethings, women of my mother’s age. I love these acts that draw in a varied crowd.
I noticed a girl in the row in front of me, four people to the left, furiously taking notes on a tiny notepad. Ah. One of me. She looked much cooler than I and I had to assume that she did not buy a mermaid sticker book for herself before arriving to review the gig.
SVE begins, “You guys had a lot going on today and you still wanted to come here. Thanks!” She then went on to explain how it was their tour manager’s birthday and how they chanced upon Mimi’s Bakehouse to buy him a cake.
She then introduced the next song as a song about her family. “It’s my least favourite song,” – we laugh – “but my mother loves it. It’s about my family but it’s also about an asshole.” We laugh some more. The band launches into 'Don’t Do It.'
O.R. (Other Reviewer) is now writing furiously in her little notepad. Oh shit. What is she catching that I missed. I try to stay focused.
Heather and SVE sing a glorious duet “All I Can.” Their voices fill the theatre and it is a wonderful sound. Heather is putting on another great performance. Her stamina for performing two sets, back to back, is something to be admired.
After singing 'Hands' SVE thanks the standing crowd for standing. She said it was awkward singing that song to a sitting crowd. And then….and then…she explains how her life was changed when she heard this next song. The '80s and '90s in America were confusing. SVE is a Jersey girl, having lived a short stint in Tennessee before moving back to New Jersey. She then sings 'Sunshine on Leith' and I think the roof is going to pop off the venue, so big is the reaction from the audience. There is much singing along. You can be as cynical as you like, but if you were there, I think that you couldn’t help but me moved by the atmosphere in that room.
“I wish I could play for you all night long, but we don’t have that many songs.”
After a few more numbers, SVE and crew close out the show with an encore to the sounds of enthusiastic cheering from the audience. It has been a while since I’ve seen a crowd so connected to the performer. Her quirky American humour throughout, her chat with the audience, her powerful voice, and the engaged performance created a fantastic event. Good show, SVE, good show.
As I left, I saw O.R. put away her tiny notebook full of observations. I had been hoping she’d brought a sticker book (unicorns or llamas would have sufficed), but I guess we can’t all be lucky enough to be packing mermaid stickers to a gig.