24th April 2015
Friday night is just beginning in Manchester as I approach the Albert Hall. I pass restaurants that are packed and bars filled to the brim on a pleasantly warm evening. I’m anticipating a similar atmosphere for Laura Marling’s sold out show.
I ascend the stairs to the main room; I like to pretend I’m at Hogwarts at this point due to the many staircases in the venue, and that I will come out into a hidden room in the building somewhere that nobody knows about.
For her latest album, Short Movie, Laura performs primarily with a full band – tonight are Matt Ingram on drums, Nick Pini double bass and Pete Randall on guitar, rather than just herself and acoustic guitar as was the prime setup for her brilliant 2013 mercury music prize nominated album Once I Was An Eagle. The last time I saw Laura was on the 2013 tour at The Lowry, a very different setting to the Albert Hall but quite fitting for, what was a solo performance under a single spotlight in a quiet auditorium to a seated audience. A stark contrast to tonight’s audience full of whistles and shouts toward the foggy, dimly lit multicoloured stage with a backdrop of a desert in California.
At 21:15, she appears out of the mist of dry ice to eager applause. With short pixie blonde hair and wearing a huge cardigan she looks like she could have come in from a cold night in the desert much like the one on stage. After a simple and quiet greeting she begins the excellent opener ‘Howl’ which builds gradually with each of the band assembling as the song grows to a lofty finish – a song in which she is ‘begging the dawn not to come…how I don’t want to leave you’ leaving a lover asleep and regretting the impending dawn.
Next they glide through the terrific medley from Once I Was An Eagle; a 20 minute epic yet modest collection of the first five songs on the album that feels slightly overly done with the whole band, in contrast to the solo acoustic performance from the album. The gentle narrative and ambiance from these five songs now seems slightly contrived and Laura’s gentle vocals are momentarily lost under Pete’s jangling and dominating guitar. After they finish she is handed a shiny Rickenbacker, the crowd starts whooping and Laura even adopts an Elvis style cocked leg during ‘I Feel your Love’ and ‘False Hope’. The latter takes the set up a notch in energy and volume and many in the room, including myself, have a bit of a shoulder sway on the go. She removes her impressive cardigan to few wolf whistles from the crowd, prompting a somewhat sarcastic smile.
After “ruining the mystique” fluffing the intro of ‘Goodbye England’, she recovers to with a truly beautiful solo rendition. This feels more like the performances she is famous for; graceful and elegant but with such underlying emotion and power as she gazes towards the rafters but looking somewhere far beyond. The silent crowd then erupts with cheers during the coda section and we see her first real smile of the evening, this air of good mood prompts another first for the evening; engaging the audience. Laura compliments local legend Guy Garvey’s ‘excellent stage banter’ but notes that hers is not so good. At this moment, I remember back in 2013 at The Lowry she said that she didn’t feel the need to fill silence with empty words but not take it that she was being ‘southern and rude’.
Intros don’t seem to be Laura’s forte tonight as she hits a big clanger during her guitar flurry on ‘Short Movie’, however this time she embraces the moment with a laugh and lets the rogue note ring and raises her fingers to the sky in true rock-god fashion, probably my favourite moment of the night. She now appears to be enjoying herself along with a matched enthusiasm from her band.
As the end of her 90 minute set draws near, the crowd seems to get a bit restless with quite a few conversations and murmurs happening around the room between songs. One lady shouts, for the 4th time that night, for Laura to play ‘Ghost’.
There is No encore, rarely is there at a Laura Marling gig so, I make my way back to the Hogwarts staircase to beat the inevitable bottle-necking crowd that happens every time at the Albert Hall.
Once outside instead of putting my earphones back in for the surprisingly still warm trot back homeward I decide to eavesdrop on other people’s comments of the night. The main topic of conversation appears to be on beauty of the venue and I don’t hear much about beauty of Laura’s performance, which it undoubtedly was with a new sound and musical direction. There are moments on the new album where she seems lost out in America, yet the melancholy of the past appears to have been left behind with skepticism of love remaining. Laura, only at the age of 25, is still on a journey of self-discovery.
Perhaps the Marling fans expect a sturdy yet gentle performance every time and that her performance is never up for debate. For me, she is and always be full of surprises.
Read at Silent Radio