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Sharon Van Etten played a sold-out Danforth Music Hall on Monday night.Ryan Pfluger

At Toronto’s Danforth Music Theatre on Monday, American singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten walked onstage to a murky, throbbing soundscape of synths and slow-thudding drums. Singing that her “love is for real,” she wondered in song “how’d it take such a long, long time to get here?” As she is 37 years old, the question seems reasonable enough. Her audience looks to be around the same age – hipsters whose youth is running out. Raised on depressed economic indicators and their parent’s Springsteen, Van Etten is their Lorde or Lana Del Rey.

There’s a gothic alt-folk thing happening these days, with Van Etten leading a pack of poetic nocturnalists that includes the Kentuckian Emma Ruth Rundle and the Memphis-based Julien Baker. (I used to pair Van Etten with another gloomster, Jessica Lea Mayfield, but she’s dropped off the map a bit.)

On her recent album, the just-out Remind Me Tomorrow, Van Etten has traded the wistful jangle of her past work for something trippier, industrial and ominous. I prefer her old style, but the emotional vulnerability, harmonies and sweetly dead-eyed vocals haven’t changed. Her moroseness is still as elegant, just less devastated and graphic than, say, Your Love Is Killing Me, from 2014:

Break my legs so I won’t walk to you

Cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you

Burn my skin so I can’t feel you

Stab my eyes so I can’t see

Grievous stuff, from Van Etten’s previous album Are We There, a statement of the Is That All There Is? kind. In the five years between that album and her new one, Van Etten studied psychology at Brooklyn College, gave birth to a baby boy and did some acting (on Showtime’s Twin Peaks and the Netflix drama The OA). In appearance, she’s transformed from the indie-rocker next door to the tougher look of Patti Smith, an iconic artist who serves as an inspiration to Van Etten.

Her profile has never been higher. A recent feature in the New York Times was followed by (positive) album reviews in Rolling Stone and the New Yorker. In Toronto, she sold out the Danforth. Had the larger Massey Hall been available, Van Etten likely would have filled it.

On stage, with a four-piece band behind her, she stuck to minor keys while alternating between a couple of electric guitars, though just as often going without one. “Sorry it’s been so long,” she apologized to her fans here. “Thanks for waiting for me.” In contrast to her melancholy music, she came off as cheerful and grateful when she addressed the crowd.

Van Etten dipped into her back catalogue sparingly, preferring to stick to the new material. Though it’s tempting to group her Seventeen with Janis Ian’s At 17 or Stevie Nicks’s Edge of Seventeen, musically the song beats to the droning pulse of The National or Arcade Fire. Seemingly singing to her younger self, she began by soothing (“I see you so uncomfortably alone; I wish I could show you how much you’ve grown”) before pleading cathartically (“I know what you’re going to be”) and wondering nostalgically (“I used to feel free, or was it just a dream?”).

Through five albums, Van Etten has melodically questioned her place and her past. Now she seems to have survived something and come out the other side. Not everybody does – and Van Etten doesn’t suggest they do.

After the concert, I looked into the whereabouts of the aforementioned Mayfield. With her most recent post on Twitter, back in August, she announced she’d decided not to tour due to poor mental and physical health. “I’m still suffering and dealing with trauma and have realized the best thing to do is put my safety first and take time to heal," she tweeted.

Later, in an article published in December, Mayfield spoke to a writer from jail. Her detainment was brief; Mayfield later texted the writer. “I’m free,” she wrote.

At best, Van Etten might tell Mayfield, freedom is a process. At worst, just a dream.

Sharon Van Etten plays the Vancouver Imperial, Feb. 22.

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