LAURA Marling had been on stage for maybe 20 minutes when the fire alarm went off. We were sent spilling into the night for half an hour. Friday night’s spell broken perhaps?
Well, maybe, but in the circumstances, it didn’t ruin the evening. If anything, the unexpected break allowed a little light in.
Marling, who reminded us that she hadn’t toured for four and a half years, had started the evening launching into I Was An Eagle with a heady intensity, eyes skyward, just her and her guitar, picking through the emotional debris as a full house at The Queen’s Hall looked on with rapt attention. The whole thing felt almost churchy.
After the fire alarm-induced break that hushed reverence had dissipated. The audience and maybe even Marling herself, seemed a little looser, more relaxed.
It was good to be reminded of her dry, wry wit, certainly. In song and in person. Introducing her song, The End of the Affair, she pointed out its use of the name Max had no significance other than handiness. That didn’t stop the two Max’s in her life, she said, from getting in touch and asking if they needed to talk. “And one of them was my therapist.”
The wit is a salve for Marling’s sometimes despairing cynicism, which in turn is a cover for her full-blown romanticism.
Marling is too often parcelled up as a latecomer Laurel Canyon troubadour, a believer in the cult of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen (whose song Avalanche she covered), which is not necessarily inaccurate but is too glib a reading on her 21-st century take on love and romance, of men and the women who have to put up with them.
The pleasures of this solo show were twofold. Firstly, her guitar playing, all feather and steel, as she picked her way through songs with a technique that conjoined strength and delicacy.
And then there was her singing.
Divorced from the studio and her band, its ringing power is all the clearer, most notably the breath and purity of her higher register, but also its suppleness, its range. There were moments here where she almost spoke-sang her lyrics, others where she let her voice go and you began to wish that now and then she’d play with the sound of it more, use it as a texture rather than as a vehicle for her words.
But then the words cut deep, most notably on songs such as Wild Fire and A Song For Our Daughter which climaxed tonight’s performance.
Worth the wait, then. The fire alarm just added to the sense of occasion.