Sharon Van Etten performed at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall on Thursday, 1st December. David James Young reviews.
“It’s no big deal, man. It’s not like I’m playing the Sydney Opera House and they’re filming it or anything like that.” About 10 minutes into Sharon Van Etten’s first Australian show in three-and-a-half years, the woman of the hour let her guard down with a nervous laugh in front of a packet Concert Hall – for many, the first time they’ve been inside the venue for over two years after extensive renovations.
Sharon Van Etten – ‘Headspace’
Moments before cracking this nonchalant joke, Van Etten arrived on stage in spectacular fashion – wading through synth drones and theatrical haze, taking the microphone off its stand and launching into the emotive ‘Headspace’ with absolute gusto. She got up in the face of her backing band and shoved them dramatically during the chorus, before falling to her knees during the bridge. Pure rockstar confidence.
Van Etten punched the air and prowled the stage during ‘Comeback Kid’, with the band in full swing behind her. She brought the Concert Hall to a standstill with just her voice, acoustic guitar and some faint recordings of birdsong during ‘Darkish’. The New Jersey musician pointed out that she and the band were still “finding their feet” again as performers, having not toured extensively since before the pandemic. But despite this caveat, the rust didn’t show.
The band’s synchronicity and airtight execution of each arrangement gave Van Etten the necessary platform to express her innermost anguish with remarkable catharsis. Drummer Jorge Andre transitioned seamlessly from the processed beats of his electronic drum pad to his booming acoustic kit, giving a masterclass in dynamics in the process; keyboardist and backing vocalist Lou Tides provided a perfect vocal foil for every intricate Van Etten harmony.
“I’m giving you all permission to get up and dance badly,” said Van Etten, encouraging everyone to rid themselves of self-consciousness and be free. ‘Mistakes’ followed, and even though Van Etten confessed to dancing like Elaine from Seinfeld, she went for it anyway.
So did we. It felt like a mirrorball should have dropped from the ceiling just to seal the deal. It was one of the most genuine connections between artist and audience of recent memory, which somehow went to an even higher level during the finale of ‘Seventeen’.