By Devon Armstrong
The O2 Academy is packed with a diverse crowd of students and adults alike, when the lights start to dim on the stage, which is draped in bright green vines wrapped around mic stands – and Laura Marling appears, after her first song asking the audience: “Are you hot? Okay good, we’re all in this together!”
Her feather-light falsetto slides into rasping gravelly tones in a soothing lullaby full of wisdom and woe. The diversity of her voice is even more impressive live, where she is able to harness such a range of emotions through her songs, conveying rage, curiosity, sensuality, sadness and determination.
A tranquillity and reverence sits upon the audience, as they are captivated by her stories. Something about her poise and spirit exudes into audience, infecting them with vulnerability and openness beneath a fiery passion. The sound mixers perfectly match the instruments of the band to fluidly support her striking vocals on transcendent Plathian lyrics about love, life and the psychology of female friendships, that could’ve been written decades ago. The emotional metaphors gently explore the various shapes and changing nature of femininity and the psyche of a young woman (‘Every heart breaks like a wave in the bay’) and the diverse melodies and arrangements touch on folk, rock, blues, soul and country.
The warmth and fullness of her voice seems to wrap around the audience like a comforting blanket, as she looks back at her life, with the mature wisdom and weathered perspective of a woman beyond her years.
The sensory language in her lyrics – inspired according to Marling by her fascination with Gothic Romantic literature – evokes natural imagery and conjures green landscapes of Berkshire where she grew up. The universally emotive melodic hook and the eerie choral backing vocals build atmosphere.
I admire that Marling has enough integrity to play largely new material from recently released album Semper Femina, such as country-influenced Wild Fire. The title, according to Marling: “comes from a Virgil poem, and the full quote from the poem is ‘Varium et mutabile semper femina’, which I might be pronouncing wrong but the translation is: ‘fickle and changeable, always a woman”, so it’s better off as just “always a woman’.”
She chats calmly to the audience as her band leaves the stage: ‘It’s just you and me now chaps’, asking ‘Shall I play a cover or something from Once I Was An Eagle?‘ When she played the cover, it felt like everyone was glad, because the melody was so beautifully intricate and allowed us to appreciate the versatility of her voice. She closed with my favourite Marling track, Rambling Man, which is her own favourite to play live: “I think the one that’s never been off the setlist, and the setlist has been going for 10 years now – is Rambling Man. That’s my favourite song to play and it might be my favourite song I’ve ever written.”
A calmness set into the audience for the duration of the show and her wisdom brought a softness and comfort to a wanting room on a Monday night.