Laura Marling at the Woman's Club Theatre, 8/14/13
Photo By Erik Hess
With Paul Metzger
Woman's Club Theatre, Minneapolis
August 14, 2013
Most musicians don't go from playing London's esteemed Royal Albert Hall on a Monday night to performing at the slightly more modest Woman's Club Theatre on a Wednesday. But Laura Marling isn't like most musicians. The 23-year-old English singer-songwriter kicked off her 10-day U.S. tour with a sold-out show in Minneapolis last night, playing a brief but riveting solo set that was full of raw emotion and playful charm. And even though the set finished at just under an hour, you'd be hard-pressed to find any fans who felt cheated.
Laura Marling at the Cedar, 12/01/11
"Hello. My name is Laura," Marling said unassumingly as she took to the stage. "How are you all this evening?" She was flanked by two guitars and nothing else on the stark stage, and entertained us all with only her lilting vocals; insightful, penetrating lyrics; deft guitar work; and a few hilarious stories that brought some levity and personality to the set. "In an effort to live the simple life, I've done without a crew. Which I prefer, since I like to travel alone," Marling explained early in the performance. "But because of that, my shows are like 20 percent tuning now." But those unguarded moments while tuning, when she told us of her day and her travels, only added to the allure of the evening.
The set started with a fluid, 16-minute blend of the first four numbers from Marling's new record, Once I Was an Eagle, as Laura skillfully fused "Take the Night Off," "I Was an Eagle," "You Know," and "Breathe" into one lengthy artistic statement, with the full house stone-silent as the unvarnished vulnerability and self-assured poise of each number rang out true in the hall. Marling's guitar work went from the understated elegance of Nick Drake to echoing the poppy haze of Pink Floyd's "Fearless" as she transitioned seamlessly from song to song, growing more comfortable and at ease as the night wore on.
After a brazen take on her new single, "Master Hunter," which contains the incisive lines "You're not sad, you look for the blues/I have some news/Wrestling the rope from darkness is no fucking life that I would choose," Marling was quick to apologize for her cursing. "I really hope that there are no children in the audience. My sincere apologies." But there really was nothing to apologize for in Marling's poignant and powerful performance, with the young musician growing more assured and adventurous as her career has progressed, having come a long way from her Minneapolis debut at the 400 Bar in 2008 (with a then-unknown Marcus Mumford serving as part of her backing band) and even improving on her 2011 show at the Cedar. She just keeps refining and evolving her artistry, all entirely on her own terms, and her songs and her shows only benefit from those assertive advancements.
Photos By Erik Hess
"My guitar got lost by American Airlines on the way over here," Marling shared anxiously midway through the set. "I hate to think what it went through. It got delivered to my hotel at 4 o'clock, just in time for the show." That nervy experience might rattle some performers, but other than some extra tuning Marling didn't really miss a beat, and her expert guitar work guided the songs forward as the slow-burning emotions of the tracks gradually took hold. It's a gutsy move for a musician to take the stage with just an acoustic guitar and her voice and still command the attention of the room, and Marling did just that with her evocative songs filled with heartache, mettle, and moving on.
After a sprightly take on "Rambling Man," the talkative Marling took a moment to soak in the loud ovation from the packed house. "You're exceptionally friendly. Everyone in this town is. I've been wandering around all day just chatting with everyone. It's been such a pleasure." And that sense of contentment permeated the entire set, as the crowd gave her songs the rapt attention they deserve, while Marling's endearing between-song banter strengthened the bond she had with her fans.
"If you put all my songs together, you might think I'm not exceptionally keen on men," Marling joked before a brilliant version of "I Speak Because I Can." "I actually think quite highly of most men. Sorry, that's going to ruin the entire show for you." But again, nothing could ruin this night, especially the truly stunning moment that followed. "I'm going to play a cover now," Marling announced. "I've got the lyrics written here on my wrist. I'm just trying to keep things honest with you guys." And, after flubbing the first line of Simon and Garfunkel's tender "Kathy's Song," and admonishing herself with a quick, "Shit!," Marling made the delicate number soar, especially the wistful lines "I gaze beyond the rainy streets/To England where my heart lies." It was a magnificent moment, with Marling's clear affection for the song lifting it upward. "I wish I had written that song," she said fondly after she finished.
Photo By Erik Hess
After a wonderful version of "What He Wrote," Marling had one last long story to tell while she did a bit more tuning. "I drove over to St. Paul today to do a session for the Current. You are lucky people to have such a station like that here. My friends call me 'Punctual Molly,' because I'm always early for everything, and I was a half-hour early for my session, so I stopped into the Science Museum. I was the only person there on my own and without any children. They did the hard-sell on me trying to get me to come in, but $20 for 20 minutes didn't seem worth it to me, so I went in the gift shop and bought two gifts that I was going to give out to a couple of you at the show.
"But then I decided that wouldn't be fair for the rest of you, so I'll just tell you what I got and you can just imagine that those are the gifts I got for all of you. I got a metal bar of soap that gets rid of the smell of garlic on your fingers. I'm vegan, and all I eat are chick peas and garlic, so that's a great discovery. And I got a collection of great American rocks."
A fantastic version of "Sophia" and a showstopping take on "Once" quickly followed, with well-earned ovations coming after each glorious number. Marling then took a moment to sing the praises of opener Paul Metzger. "I've had such a good day -- and then to be able to watch Paul, who was on before me. It was such a pleasure. Some cool stuff goes on in this town."
She then explained how she doesn't do encores, and that she never expected to get to a place where people wanted an encore from her. "But if you are the type of person who wants an encore, then that was the last song." Marling then ended the night with the simmering urgency of "Saved These Words," and was off with a wave before the audience even had a chance to rise to their feet. Marling definitely left the crowd wanting more, which is always a good thing for any artist, and hopefully she comes back soon enough to give her fans just that.
Personal Bias: This is now the third time I have seen Laura Marling, and she gets better with every performance.
The Crowd: There for the music, thankfully. The audience was quiet when they had to be, and supportive and appreciative between songs.
Overheard in the Crowd: "She's like a Sylvia Plath."
Take The Night Off/I Was An Eagle/You Know/Breathe
I Speak Because I Can
Kathy's Song (Simon and Garfunkel)
What He Wrote
Saved These Words
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