Sharon Van Etten – Cargo, Shoreditch 01 March 2012

[This review is brought to you by Dave, one of my friends from college who manages to get out a lot more than I do, because he is a richer man than I. Enjoy!]

Somewhere during Sharon Van Etten’s performance of ‘Joke or Lie,’ the closing track from potential magnum opus, ‘Tramp,’ all sense of coherence is lost. The song disappears beneath soaring harmonies, her guitarist violently striking instrument with a violin bow, the entire venue intermittently rumbling from trains passing overhead. The unwitting audience experience a moment of transcendence, stunned to silence.

Such moments are unexpected, her stage presence often disarming. She jokes with the crowd between songs, sharing stories from the road. Her backing band clearly have a strong relationship, multi-instrumentalist Heather Woods Broderick teased all through the evening. The intimate venue, tucked along an anonymous side street in East London, allows for this relaxed atmosphere.

Yet, these moments of transcendence recur throughout the performance, from Broderick’s layered harmonies, introducing ‘Don’t Do It,’ to the whirling feedback that drives ‘Serpents.’ The band performs with a hypnotic intensity, Van Etten’s voice, often weary and affected, perfectly carrying the weight of her melodies and lyricism.

The show achieves this strangest balance, drifting seamlessly between jovial delight and passionate intensity. No doubt, the small venue somewhat facilitates this idiosyncrasy. However, with ‘Tramp’ receiving significant acclaim, we are unlikely to witness Sharon Van Etten perform in such an environment again. We are only grateful for this final opportunity.

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