Like a goo-mah Soprano housewife Kafka’d into some metamorphosed cat-woman, Sharon Van Etten perches feline inside tight-jeans, sucking air through a filter of thin lips and one churlish smile. Her superb album Tramp bulges with bigger bollocks (whimper for my inadvertent misogyny) than any so-called “angry” or proto-punk band. Yet I note no irregular appendage here upon the smooth dark denim, and also she isn’t shit. So that’s good. It strikes another blow for the girls in a year which lacks a decent penis-procured record. Upon stage Ms Etten helps the band untangle wires and acts like she doesn’t belong up there. She picks up her guitar, then like a nervy gunslinger starts.
Sharon is in love, or at least she was. That’s obvious to every sober attendant enduring the super expensive, pre-gig Deaf Institute sip-fest. This crammed music hall expects a lot. We converge expectation in twattish clusters of our own non-expertise – “I really enjoy the gentile softness of her Epic album” – we’re all Van Etten experts tonight, you see. Except one fella who admits to just liking “that Tramp album to be honest”. But before I congratulate the man on not being a total wanker like the rest of us, a piercing voice rings out. It sinks in and then moves us all back a bit. It pokes through the beret-worn aura like a fat kid embargoed by a Jamie Oliver sanctioned schoolyard, squeezing chubby digits through the gate after sugar dunked freedom.
Back in the literal universe and a fistful of skinny fingers is the actual image we’re greeted by. That and two four-inch heels that shave and shred varnish from the floorboards as if it were woodland silly string. Every razor-fingered strum mirrors this aggressive symmetry whilst Sharon’s relentless constitution continues in half-squats, the odd strained look and the valentine-tongued delivery of each snogged vowel. ‘All I Can’, ‘Warsaw’, ‘Kevin’s’ and ‘Don’t Do it’ melt away. The buzz is high.
In between songs she retreats face-first into feeble chit-chat. The kinda social tissue-talk artists coax themselves toward in a mistaken bid for pally familiarity. I don’t want friendship. I want your artistic expression. Maybe she’s too polite, too lovely. She doesn’t need to be. I listen to her words carefully, realise indefinite honesty and forget my previous point as it doesn’t apply to her. She isn’t nice because her PR advises it. She’s just plain polite. It’s the dichotomy in character which helps create the smouldering lightning bolts of third album Tramp. The battle scars of her much-covered relationship push Van Etten toward her own cracked heart – the pulse of this music is honest, obsessive, quavering, unstable and fatally beautiful.
Perhaps this gut-wrenching line buried on a demo of ‘Serpents’ conveys it best – “you’ve gotta knife… well I’ve gotta gun” – subtle, huge and although cack-handedly aborted by coat hanger from the album version, still available here or through her official Facebook page.
The buzz is deserved. Gig of the year, so far. Snuff her out before she buggers back off to the USA.