American musicians Sharon Van Etten and Heather Woods Broderick are dear friends. They started playing together more than eight years ago with Broderick forming an integral part of Van Etten’s backing band since then. They are both clearly delighted to be now sharing a bill together and appear here tonight in what is the last date of Van Etten’s UK tour, one that has included a much-vaunted show at this year’s Glastonbury Festival and Sharon Van Etten’s absolutely stunning interpretation of Irving Berlin’s classic ‘Let’s Face the Music and Dance’ whilst duetting with actor Jeff Goldblum on the West Holts Stage.
This concert sold out weeks ago. The Stylus is a 1000 capacity venue deep in the bowels of Leeds University Union and Heather Woods Broderick takes to its stage with her band right on the stroke of eight o’clock. Sat behind her electric piano, Broderick begins with three songs – ‘I Try’, ‘Nightcrawler’, and ‘Where I Lay’ – taken from her third and most recent album, Invitation.
Released in April of this year, Invitation marked a departure for Heather Woods Broderick in her songwriting process in that on this occasion she actually took time out from touring and moved to the Oregon coast to pen the material for this record. The opening three songs capture the essence of that dramatic landscape, contrasting its natural beauty and rugged simplicity. The combination of strength and vulnerability in her voice magnifies those impressions.
Broderick then steps out from behind her keyboard and picks up her guitar taking a detour from Invitation in the process. She invests her 2017 single ‘Home Winds’ with great passion and power, unhitching her voice from its hitherto more tranquil moorings as she does so, before returning to the relatively more peaceful shoreline of ‘A Daydream’ and ‘White Tail’ from Invitation. Broderick signs off with the album’s title track, back behind her piano, alone on the stage and bathed in a single Pacific Ocean blue spotlight bringing to a close a performance of marked singularity and enhanced beauty.
Heather Woods Broderick returns a little over half an hour later, this time positioning herself stage right behind her keyboards and now part of Sharon Van Etten’s band. It suddenly seems like a very long time since I first saw Van Etten play about a mile from here at the Brudenell Social Club in front of about 100 or so people.
That was more than seven years ago now and much has changed for Sharon Van Etten in the interim, not least the fact that her Leeds’ audience has multiplied almost ten times since then. Alongside this huge increase in her fanbase, Van Etten has also experienced marked changes in her life. Following the release of her fourth studio album Are We There she took a four year break from music to train as a counsellor, before returning last year with Remind Me Tomorrow.
Remind Me Tomorrow heralded a shift in Sharon Van Etten’s musical emphasis as she more fully embraced electronic instrumentation. This creative transformation is reflected in her live performances as she firmly presses her foot down on the intensity gas pedal. In keeping with all of her band members, she is dressed entirely in black, a strong visual representation that serves to deepen the entire experience.
Given that it also lends its name to this tour, Remind Me Tomorrow is very well represented in tonight’s set with no less than ten songs taken from it. ‘Serpents’ is delightful; ‘Hands’ liberates the primeval rock animal within Van Etten; and despite these more expansive surroundings, first encore ‘I Told You Everything’ takes me back to the more personal intimacy of the Brudenell all those years ago. Her incredible cover of Sinéad O’Connor’s ‘Black Boys on Mopeds’ is similarly evocative.
Sharon Van Etten finishes her set and this UK tour with, rather symbolically perhaps, ‘Love More’. It signals both her, Heather Woods Broderick, her band members, tour manager and road crew all embracing in a deservedly joyful and triumphant line on the stage.
Photos: Simon Godley
More photos of Sharon Van Etten from this show can be found HERE
And more photos of Heather Woods Broderick can be found HERE