Photographs by Neil Van.

Two things were very fitting surrounding Sharon Van Etten’s gig last night in Toronto.  First, the rainy night seemed to be the perfect setting for Van Etten’s songs of heartbreak, and second is she sold her own brand of tissue packs at the merch table.

Touring behind this year’s fine Are We There, her fourth album, Van Etten brought her band to an almost full Opera House for a mutual love-in.  Opening the evening with “Afraid of Nothing” it was clear this was a respectful crowd.  There wasn’t the incessant chatter that threatens to derail those mellower shows at bars and even more surprising was the lack of raised phones blocking views for no good reason.

Van Etten possesses a quirky personality and sense of humour (the aforementioned tissue), quite the opposite of her recorded output.  I found her banter quite endearing, a little awkward and shy at first but by the end of the night she was admitting her songs were hard to relive every night, but she was grateful to have an audience.  She even gave a shout out to Mimi’s on Gerrard Street for her excellent Pho dinner.

Whether on guitar, organ or keys, Van Etten was comfortable and in control, her voice clear and the band tight.  She played for just over an hour with a set mostly from the new album, except “Save Yourself” dedicated to her mom who favoured the old material but wasn’t in attendance, and an upcoming b-side performed for the first time.

Highlights from the evening included “You Know Me Well”, “Break Me” and the heaviest track to close out the set “Your Love Is Killing Me”, one of the highlights on her new album.  The sound at the Opera House was clear, although it sounded like one of the speakers had blown during the last song of her two-song encore.

I mentioned to a friend before she began that I wished the show was at Massey Hall, purely for lazy reasons following my walk to the Opera House, but I don’t think it will be long before she’s actually playing the famed venue purely because she’s that good.