In the creaky, weary, glorious old Odeon Theatre in Hobart, Tasmania, Sharon van Etten made an explosive, incandescent start to the one of the most brilliant festivals in the world today.

Her voice, incredible on record, is extraordinary live: ranging from operatic, soaring highs in ‘No-one’s Easy to Love’ to growling exhortations in ‘Seventeen’ where she crawled across the stage and ranted like a demonic preacher to the audience: ‘I used to be seventeen, now you’re just like me’.

Van Etten’s songwriting is of course the foundations of such a performance. Van Etten’s songs are elegiac, personal, they feel cathartic and created an immediate intimacy in the Odeon. Each one melodic, emotional, touched at points with self deprecating humour – Van Etten noting before ‘Every Time the Sun Comes Up’ that it was one hated by her mother, with its refrain:

Yeah, every time the sun comes up, I’m in trouble
Imagine when
Every time the sun comes up, I see double

Half way through the set, with the band departing the stage, Van Etten performed a moving and extraordinary cover of Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Black Boys on Mopeds’. She introduced the song by talking of her despair of the way the world was going and her worry for her young son, calling for love and kindness in the face of hate and horror. It was a poignant and beautiful rendition of a song though written thirty years ago is still as relevant and cutting as ever:

England’s not the mythical land of Madame George and roses
It’s the home of police who kill blacks boys on mopeds
And I love my boy and that’s why I’m leaving
I don’t want him to be aware that there’s
Any such thing as grieving

But Van Etten’s voice alone could not account for this extraordinary and mesmerising performance. Her band – Charley Damski (guitar, keyboards), Devin Hoff (bass), Jorge Balbi (drums) and Heather Woods Broderick (keyboards, vocals) – were accomplished stars in their own right – the architects of the incredible sound – but restrained and respectful. The harmonies provided by Woods Broderick were glorious.

Despite its age and fragility, the sound and lighting in the Odeon was spectacular, due no doubt in part to the talents of Van Etten’s team. It is welcome that the Odeon has been reprieved after threat of demolition.

From the surrounding chatter, I believe that many in the theatre were not familiar with Van Etten – I know that I had only come late to the game with her latest album ‘Remind Me Tomorrow’. I can guarantee that after that performance no one could forget her. It was a powerful, evocative and uplifting night, the crowd spilling out of the Odeon filled with such a palpable and collective joy to have witnessed such an extraordinarily beautiful performance.

Dark Mofo without exception curates an incredible array of slightly off-kilter, provocative and always entertaining and enlightening events in the bleak mid-winter of this isolated city. This was no exception.

Setlist:

Jupiter 4
Comeback Kid
No One’s Easy to Love
One Day
Tarifa
Memorial Day
You Shadow
Malibu
Hands
Black Boys on Mopeds
Seventeen
Every Time the Sun Comes Up
Stay

Encore:
I Told You Everything
Serpents
Love More

Photos courtesy of DarkLab Media


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