Clare Dodd soaks up a captivating performance by the singer-songwriter Laura Marling
A hush rushes through the crowd as the undulating minor bass riff kicks in.
The hot, breathless room begins to sway and Laura Marling slinks into her opening number, Soothing. The uncomfortable scuffling and craning for a view in the packed-out O2 is suddenly made worthwhile.
Marling is ethereal at the best of times, but as she stood, implacable, with her blinding white hair, a stage festooned with foliage and her guitar held as if an extension of her body, she cut a true vision.
Touring her latest album, Semper Femina, Marling’s sound more than lived up to the visual hype. Her voice was striking and as she switched between classical, acoustic and 12-string (not to mention what looked like an acoustic resonator to boot) it was soon clear that her guitar playing was equally incredible.
Echoing early Leonard Cohen, with two gentle backing singers and a mixture of electric and acoustic, Marling’s set was a true troubadour’s ramble through desire, questioning and the blurred boundaries of love within friendship.
Originally intended to be a study of woman from a man’s perspective – that is until she realised she could write it from her own – Marling’s latest album is a treatise, an exploration and a celebration of women, female relationships and the muse. Semper Femina is an enchanting and complex album, the majority of which we got to hear live, along with a few welcome meanderings back and forth to Marling’s previous five albums.
While the album is fantastic, however, it’s important to confess that there were moments during Marling’s live set that felt a little repetitious.
This is not to deny the particular talent Marling has for delivering intriguing and delicately crafted lyrics, nor the beauty of her more stripped back songs. Certainly there are some tracks where Marling effortlessly delivered every nuance without the need for any support.
This was especially true of her performance of Nouel. Forming part of a three-song solo interlude, Marling utterly captivated us with this desirous, pining track from the latest album, backed by nothing more than the delicate pluck of her own guitar strings.
The bigger tracks of the night though, pushed forward by the band (including a brilliant double-bassist), certainly seemed more rounded, more enveloping and sweeping. Songs like Soothing, Nothing, Not Nearly and Darkness Descends really elevated the set and we could have done with a few more.
A gig should be about balance and Marling herself has admitted that it was the musicians and producer she worked with on Semper Femina that really pushed her and resulted in the album’s more progressive, evolved sound. Perhaps a similar push on stage would transform an already dazzling performance into a blinding one.