I discovered Laura Marling relatively late. Ashamedly, I had bracketed her with both male and female songwriters who sang about unrequited love and how if we were all nice to each other, the world would be a better place.
How wrong was I?
This was the first of four dates at the compact and beautifully appointed Queen Elizabeth Hall. I deliberately had not bought her new album “Short Movie” as I wanted to hear it live for the first time. The lack of familiarity with the material didn’t hamper any enjoyment on my part. We had great seats and in particular were able to enjoy Laura’s skill and dexterity on a variety of guitars and her wonderful voice.
Her band included a second guitarist who was mainly employed to provide texture and thicken the sound. Laura very much played lead. She switched mostly between a dobro which was in an open tuning and what looked like a solid body Rickenbacker. Her bass player played standup bass, both plucked and bowed and her drummer moved between his kit and a small drum in his lap. He often used his hands a la John Bonham, which was not the only Led Zeppelin influence in the evening.
Opening with “Howl” from her new album, she then launched into a stunning sequence of songs, essentially the side one of “Once I Was An Eagle”. This immediately revealed the prevailing Led Zeppelin influence, in particular the third Zep album with the open tuning on songs such as “Friends” and “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”. This wasn’t delicate guitar picking. This was visceral strumming with her fingers dancing up and down the bottom strings with the open strings droning in unison.
Here’s a recent clip from “Later” which illustrates her technique. The song in question, “Strange”, featured in last night’s set.
The remainder of the show was a mixture of new material with a selection from her back catalogue. In particular, “I Feel Your Love” and “False Hope” showed a further possible direction. They were more direct and electric with echoes of PJ Harvey.
Again, this promotional for the latter track (with the band that backed her last night) shows another side of her. Not withstanding the New York references, it does complement Polly’s “Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea.”
As the set progressed, the effective curved screen backdrop changed from the edge of a desert which moved from day to night and eventually up into the stars.
A particular highlight was an electrifying version of “The Muse” which strayed from the version of the original into almost an almost “Candy Store Rock/Royal Orleans” Zep work out from “Presence”. You could well imagine Robert Plant’s hips twitching as he delivered this one. This rhythmic approximation of Zeppelin was a wonderful strand through out the evening. Laura’s obviously influenced by Jimmy Page (as well Roy Harper, Davy Graham, Bert Jansch who all influenced Jimmy). The underlying drive though comes from a rock solid rhythm section again which echoed JPJ and Bonzo.
She did wonderful solo cover of Jackson C Frank’s “Blues Run The Game” which she previously recorded as a 7 inch for Jack White’s Third Man Records, before a home run ending with the title track of her new album. The pretence of encores was done away with – leave them wanting more.
I feel incredibly privileged to have seen Laura in a venue as intimate and (for these aging bones) as comfortable as the Queen Elizabeth Hall. I doubt there are tickets left through the authorised channels for the rest of the UK tour but if there are – grab them!
- Take The Night Off
- I Was An Eagle
- You Know
- I Feel Your Love
- What He Wrote
- How Can I?
- Rambling Man
- Walk Alone
- Master Hunter
- Devil’s Spoke
- False Hope
- The Muse
- Blues Run The Game
- Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)
- Love Be Brave
- Worship Me
- Short Movie
By the way, the lighting designer has contacted me via Twitter to say that the backdrop was filmed in Death Valley. Some poor soul spent 36 hours filming the footage. We drove through Death Valley on a road trip 25 years or so ago. Fascinating place but grueling as hell.