Live Music + Gig Reviews

Sharon Van Etten @ Institute, Birmingham

18 June 2022

A superb show from an unmissable artist hitting her prime as a songwriter and performer

Sharon Van Etten (Photo: Michael Schmelling)

Sharon Van Etten (Photo: Michael Schmelling)

One of the biggest talking points of Sharon Van Etten’s incredible gig at Birmingham’s O2 Institute was her new and preferred mononym ‘Shazza’. Partway through the show, after being greeted by a chorus of ‘Shazza’s before, during and after every song, Shazza told us that she’d originally thought it was a pet name that one of her friends had come up with, but during a tour of England a few years ago, she’d realised that it was an accepted (and seemingly encouraged) British alternative. 

Van Etten’s genuine enthusiasm and warmth for the assembled audience was somewhat surprising, especially seeing as her music and lyrics often veer towards the maudlin and the morose, or at the very least the introspective. She gave thanks to the support act – L’Rain, thanks to her band, thanks to the team at the Institute, thanks to the bus driver and her partner and her children. She gave a shout-out to the fathers in the crowd (this was the day before Father’s Day), and remarked about how glad she was to be back in England. 

And the crowd were just as thankful to have her back on these shores. The show, which at times felt like a Greatest Hits show, despite the relative lack of older material, switched gears and moods continuously, with slow and more considered acoustic songs sitting next to her high drama Goth-leaning modern output. 

The highlights – most of the gig! – were plentiful. As you’d expect, Comeback Kid was fantastic, as were the other selections from 2019’s Remind Me Tomorrow (does that album now seem like her magnum opus to you? It sure sounded like it on the night). Everytime The Sun Comes Up, which is probably the best song Shazza’s ever written, was performed with heartbursting power, despite this being three weeks into the tour (Shazza had to be reminded of just how long she’d been touring quite early on into the show). 

Songs from new album We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong were all – and this sounds hyperbolic but you really had to be there – superb. Darkish, Darkness Fades, Mistakes, Come Back… all genuinely great. And better than the record! That’s one of the key benefits of seeing Sharon Van Etten live (more so than most) – the songs, when emanating from your speaker set-up, really don’t get to expand and occupy as much space as they do on a club show. The warmth and vigour of Anything – from the new album – can only really be experienced to its fullest live and in technicolour, and that’s emblematic of the whole ‘Sharon Van Etten Experience’. 

Seeing Shazza live is like watching an old friend get up there and put on the performance of their lives. Her dancing is completely unique, her vocals are instantly recognisable and her songs come to life in the live arena. She’s an unmissable artist just about hitting her prime as a songwriter and performer. Don’t miss her the next time she comes back around. 

buy Sharon Van Etten MP3s or CDs
Spotify Sharon Van Etten on Spotify

More on Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten @ Institute, Birmingham
Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong
Africa Express, Doves, Sauna Youth… This Week In Gigs
Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow
Sharon Van Etten – Are We There