Sharon Van Etten is finally back in the house after an absence of 3 years, and it feels good. Fresh off an extensive tour of Europe she has brought her ‘Darkness Fades’ tour to Australia. Apart from this show at Sydney’s iconic Opera House, Van Etten will be playing the Meredith Festival as well as dates in Brisbane, Melbourne and Fremantle.
Van Etten released her sixth album, ‘We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong’, which she produced in her home studio in Los Angeles earlier this year. Whilst the epic album addressed the issues that the world has faced over the past two years of the pandemic, it is also a deeply personal reflection on motherhood. Van Etten has curated a playlist for the Opera House that reflects the songs that she and her five-year-old son love to listen to.
Van Etten’s band, made up of Jorge Balbi on drums, Devon Hoff on bass, Teeny Lieberson on vocals and synths, and live musical director Charley Damski on synths and guitars, take the stage and then, out strides Van Etten to cries of “Shazza” from the audience.
There will be a constant interplay between Van Etten and the crowd tonight as her peculiarly Australian nickname is shouted out between songs. The interactions between Van Etten and Hoff are also fascinating to watch, his bass providing the fulcrum around which she weaves her voice and guitar. It is peculiar to be in a large crowd again, and very few people are wearing masks. Van Etten stalks the edge of the stage, making eye contact with those seated near the front, she seems to sense her audience’s need for connection, after the pandemic-induced absence of concerts. The stage is sparse, there are no screens, just a huge disco ball that reflects light in a million shards across this vast, beautiful space. Van Etten’s voice is magnificent and permeates the hall. It is particularly showcased on ‘Beaten Down’, a highlight of the evening. There are some funny moments – Shazza tells us that she has been told that she dances like Elaine from ‘Seinfeld’ and then proceeds to demonstrate this talent.
Before playing ‘Darkish’ Van Etten tells a story about how this song started life as a story about there not being any birdsong in Brooklyn, but later ended up being one of, according to her, the least depressing songs on her new album. As she speaks I am reminded of ‘Songbird’ the song that Christine McVie would perform at the end of Fleetwood Mac concerts and how news of McVie’s sad passing reached us today. ‘Seventeen’ is the last song and it gets everyone up on their feet, busting their own Elaine moves. Van Etten duets with an audience member, she tugs on his shirt, drawing him close as he shuts his eyes closed in delight and belts out the lyrics.
The Sydney Opera House has just completed extensive upgrades to its Concert Hall and it is fitting that Van Etten has performed one of the first contemporary music concerts in this magnificent place. The Opera House is iconic and so is Sharon Van Etten.