mon 22/07/2024

Laura Marling, Corn Exchange, Cambridge | reviews, news & interviews

Laura Marling, Corn Exchange, Cambridge

Laura Marling, Corn Exchange, Cambridge

Folk rock's Sylvia Plath still struggles with onstage nerves

Laura Marling: finding wonder in not fitting inalterna2

To call Laura Marling folk rock’s Sylvia Plath for the Pete Doherty generation probably sounds like faint praise. But ever since I heard her described thus I haven’t been able to lose the Plath comparison. Fragile, sensitive, effortlessly talented; Marling’s all these things.

But more, she’s a poet of feeling too much and caring too deeply, able to perfectly crystallise such emotions because she always seems to be living them. Capable of finding wonder in a wet weekend, or tragedy in a sunny afternoon because she never quite belongs. 

With the new album I Speak Because I Can, however, Marling has a new look and, for its tour, more experience. And the result is? Well, that depends on your expectations. But with her recordings being so personal, at least half the Corn Exchange was hoping for one of those concerts that leaves you feeling like a date that’s gone particularly right. And Marling gave moments of that, gave moments when you felt that you were really getting her. But for much of the concert she was merely very good.

 for much of the concert she was merely very good It was actually when she was note perfect that she seemed to communicate least. The first five songs came with a full band, and that, no doubt, gave her confidence. The opener, "Devil's Spoke", was given more drive than on the album, and "Hope in the Air", one of her weaker songs, benefited from giving her more space to be expressive with the words. And Marling stood out in front singing powerfully. But there was reserve - certainly no outpouring from her darkest recesses. And then with song six, she dismissed the band, and played a new song, and a cover of Neil Young’s “Needle and the Damage Done”. And for a while something wonderful happened. Suddenly there they were – all the Seventies female folk singers that she’s so often compared to, all melded together and made completely Laura Marling. No wonder it prompted the evening’s lone cry of “I love you, Laura”

Still playing solo, Marling then came clean with her nerves by completely fluffing “Failure”; forgetting the words, putting in bum notes and actually probably giving more of herself than she did at the top of her set. Certainly the crowd seemed to think so - they might not look like London hipsters but the audience of the Corn Exchange seemed to have the same sense that being occasionally shambolic isn’t always a bad thing. Be that so, they were, however, all sitting in the wrong sort of venue to help Marling achieve real rapport; a rather municipal theatre. A venue where perhaps you are best off screwing up your eyes and forgetting the neat seated rows?

Interestingly Marling was less moving in the gorgeous and beautifully performed "Made by Maid", and "What he Wrote", both standout tracks from the album, and more on "Night Terror", "Goodbye England", and "Alas I Cannot Swim", three of her most personal songs. Those - especially "Night Terror" with its ghostly whistling - seemed to be the moments where she was most caught up with the emotion and not just the notes. The last four songs of the set brought back the band as if Marling felt a need for company to walk offstage with. And true to her difficulties with the spotlight, she begged our indulgence for not doing encores saying anyone feeling cheated could consider the penultimate song the last if they wished.

On the evidence of tonight I imagine that Marling might grow into one of those artists whose tickets are worth a hundred English or Zimbabwean pounds depending on the night. Or maybe she'll play safe, seeking safety in numbers by using the band more. The same could be said for her writing. She is promising another record out this year. If she puts her heart on the line it could be a masterpiece of yearning melody. And on that count the new songs played tonight augered well indeed.

Watch the video for Laura Marling's "Devil's Spoke"

She was stifled by shyness; her voice frequently faltered where it should have soared

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I think the review comes across slightly harsh - I'm not really sure what constitutes a good gig for you then? Completely agree on the Needle and the Damage Done, as well as Night Terror - both were phenomenal (the way the whistling of the fiddle piece echoed around, what was a rather drab setting, was stunning). However, you say that "when she was note perfect that she seemed to communicate least." What exactly does that mean? Some of the notes she reached were breathtaking. High and difficult, yet she nailed them effortlessly, without losing the soulfulness of the tone. I agree she looked more confident with the band, but there were only ever one or two songs, which I felt fell slightly short of her high standards. Generally, soulfully superb would fit the bill Also, completely agree on the venue thing. I guess the argument could be made that Laura's sort of music doesn't need a standing crowd, but the regimented seating arrangement did perhaps lose a little of the occasion's magic.

Matt - I did think it was a good gig, and in places great. And from almost anyone else it might be unnecessary to pick up on the deficiencies (- maybe given her age it's unfair on Laura too?) But, given how extraordinary her records have been, I feel that a lot of people want or hope her to be completely spellbinding. And on Saturday I thought she only had moments when she lost herself in the moment. It seemed in places, particularly the beginning, that she had worked on overcoming nerves and getting the songs right (getting note perfect), but hadn't quite got to the point of being sufficiently comfortable to give a little bit of her soul (communicating less) or whatever other cliche we might use to convey the sort of concert that gives a whole lot more than you get on the record. To clarify: she was bloody good, but I just didn't find myself blown away. Which is what I had hoped for........

Peculiar cookie-cut review for the most part, seemingly assembled from trawls through numerous other reviews and hearsay from Marling's career topped with a dash of information from the evening itself. Anodd choice of a very dated photo considering "Marling has a new look and, for its tour, more experience". Truly dreadful seated venue more concerned with its selections of muffins, crackdown on photography and litter-picking 'attendants' than generating any real atmosphere. But a crackling performance from a typically shy performer with an outrageous talent and plenty more cards to play. The new tracks in particular were an intriguing insight for next Winter's album.This Summer's festival appearances should allow her to have a lot more fun with a more animated, unshackled audience.

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