Playing the supporting role at the Thekla tonight are Bristol’s Empty Pools. Despite being a relatively ‘new’ band – popping up at some point over the last twelve months, as so many seem to be at the moment – Empty Pools have already found their name on the lips of a lot of discerning regulars on the gig circuit. Still in their infancy, they have already received praise from the likes of the NME and BBC 6 Music and are regularly being booked on at Bristol’s mid- and larger-sized venues, supporting the likes of White Denim and The Duke Spirit and, now, Sharon Van Etten.
It’s always pretty humbling when you watch a band set up, on stage, before they perform; a reminder that, like you, they are humans too. Being human, and more specifically experiencing the spectrum of human emotion, is exactly what Sharon Van Etten’s music is all about. Here’s the thing, though – despite the deeply personal turmoil conveyed in her song-writing, Sharon is actually hilarious. Her between-song dry wisecracks are equally as enjoyable and as honest as her music.
Tonight’s set leans heavily on material from Tramp – a sure-fire contender for the album of the year. She begins with the album’s title track, starting out gently with only her vocals and guitar before blossoming into full-blown band affair in an exhilarating crescendo in which her voice becomes more and more gigantic and arresting. ‘Give Out’, an emotional gut-punch of a song, is dedicated to “anyone who has moved to another city for love” and delivered with a startling poignancy that is unlikely to have left anyone without a lump in their throat. Perhaps the most beautiful moment is the stripped down version of ‘I Wish I Knew’ from Because I Was In Love, which Sharon performs solo, her voice propped up by sparse chords on her guitar.
The evolution of Sharon’s live show is obvious; whereas her previous outings involved just herself and her guitar, she now has a full band with whom she appears to be experimenting. Testament to this is the rendition of ‘I’m Wrong’ towards the end of the set, which descends into a ten-minute face-melting shoe-gaze session before segueing into a more subdued ‘Joke or a Lie’. And, after ‘Serpents’, full of passion and vitriol, Sharon steps up to the microphone and says in an almost-bashful voice, “I hope that song is as much fun to listen to as it is to play.”
Yes; it really is!