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Sharon Van Etten, Leith Theatre, Edinburgh

  • Published in Live

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.


Le Guess Who? 2014, Various Venues, Utrecht - Day 3 (2.0)

  • Published in Live

I’m actually kind of surprised when Sharon van Etten says that She Keeps Bees are from New York, because I wouldn’t have automatically assumed that. She (singer Jessica Larrabee) just seems to have this nicety about her that makes you think she should be from Minnesota or something. She is so thankful that everyone has come to her show that she sometimes loveably enthusiastically forgets that she needs to be talking into the microphone rather than into the air. She even almost apologizes for throwing some of those do-you-believe-in-life-after-love Cher moves in there to keep “that rope” behind her head, meaning her sizeable ponytail. “It’s physics” she explains, after which she briefly mimicks the singer.

She Keeps Bees came out with a new album this year, and so they’re touring, and if tonight is anything to go by, you might want to take a look at whatever (I imagine relatively small) venue they’ll be playing. The soft-loud interplay throughout the gig is used to great effect, and the way the drums and the two guitars manage to work together and not, say, battle each other shows that they know a thing or two on how to craft a sound. So the synthesizer which she praises  for being so very clever (she’s going to ask it to do her taxes next time around) is not the only thing that has some smarts. And then there’s still her lovely hoarse voice, which again can go up and down, whatever the song requires. On two songs she even basically starts a capella, which is ballsy. One of those bands that play that kind of non-pretentious indie rock you cannot help but love, and even on some songs, feel touched by.

Sharon van Etten is having fun. She’s having fun with She Keeps Bees, saying something like, and I’m paraphrasing, “I miss you guys so much in New York, and now we finally see each other again! In Utrecht, what the...”. She’s having fun with her fellow band members, who she sneaks glances to whilst undoubtedly sharing in jokes. And she’s definitely having some fun with an Irishman up front, who is almost miming her songs back at her and whose laugh has Van Etten in stitches, saying she wants it as her alarm clock sound. “I’m thinking bad thoughts”, the man says, to which Van Etten replies with a don’t want to know, then saying that the next song is dedicated to him, entitled ‘Break Me’, which has both of them laughing loudly. It shows how much she has evolved since she played right in front of The National in Eindhoven years ago. There, a young, insecure kid was on stage, but here is standing a woman who owns the stage and who is being backed by some professional musicians to help her get all these sad songs for star crossed lovers across.

Musically, again, she is a novice no more (except that she apparently broke her amp, but oh well). She moves from soft, acoustic songs to louder songs she herself accompanies with the electric guitar, and she moves from her hits like ‘Our Love’ to a song that apparently didn’t make it onto the last record. Her voice is wonderfully fragile, a quality that she manages to keep in there despite her having to go over the top of raging instruments on some of the songs. This, for example, is evident during closer ‘ Your Love is Killing Me’, where she has to quite loudly ask her lover to “break my legs so I won’t run to you”, but despite the needed volume she does manage to get the desperate, the sadness, and the inescapability of the fall in there. She’s grown up as performer and as an artist, but in her voice and in most songs she doesn’t let you forget that growing up is not without it’s growing pains.

There are quite a few reasons to be jealous of Binkbeats, the young Dutchman. First of all, he’s making his live debut in the big room in Tivoli Vredenburg (where, for example, a few weeks earlier Morrissey was playing). So he’s certainly all smiles about that. Envy all around also for his incredible set-up though. Binkbeats, next to creating new sounds, also deconstructs tunes by other artists, and in order to do this he’s put every instrument imagineable on stage, and then some. In a lovely circle he’s got all kinds of “actual” instruments, devices, electronical hardware, and you name it. It looks absolutely fantastic. With in the center of it all mr. debutant.

And cue technical difficulty number one, two, and four-hundred-thirty-nine. That’s the thing about technology, it might not work exactly how you’d want it to work. And I’ve seen many seasoned musician get annoyed, angry, and apathetic because of that. Not this young kid, who apologizes, recognizes that the first couple of minutes were not up to scratch, but then tries to fix it, and the rest of the set he manages to do what he wants to do. He uses all kinds of samples, loops, sounds, and live instrumentation and singing to, eventually, get the desired effect. Some of the songs sound perhaps a bit too deconstructed, with all the odd bits and pieces not being put together to create an ongoing flow. On some of the tracks this does happen though, and then his wizardry comes to the fore pretty well. Just for the comeback alone this guy deserves a thumbs up (though, admittedly, it’s not like he’s never been on a stage, having performed with Kyteman Orchestra, but that’s less a-boy’s-storybook, don’t ya think?). 

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