Laura Marling – Live Review – Leeds O2 Academy
By Molly McGee, March 2017
Laura Marling’s latest album, Semper Femina (‘Always a woman’), is an ode to womanhood, in all it’s many wonderful, impossible facets. It seems serendipitous, then, that I happen to see her perform on International Women’s Day.
To call Laura Marling wise beyond her years is redundant at this point. Surely it is a truth universally acknowledged by those who have heard her music over the last nine years. Her shyness as a performer has been well documented. Past articles paint a picture of a deeply private ‘girl’ (commentary has persistently referred to her as if she were still a teenager, despite now being 27), one whose discomfort at being looked at by so many, at such a young age, has made her guarded. Aloof, even.
There is something intimidating about her, in the way that those with a sort of otherworldly talent can be. The audience seem to recognise this, offering up a hushed, reverential silence as she launches into ‘Soothing’, the first track on her new album. It’s a track that stands in stark contrast with her earlier work, driven by undulating double bass and isolated, tribal drum beats. It’s a darker, resolutely adult sound; languid, heady and simmering with tension.
Marling stares above the audience as she sings, never quite meeting our gaze. It’s understandable why this could be perceived as nerves, or superiority, but it seems like neither of these things tonight. She appears to be picturing someone, or something, in the imagined horizon above the audience. This, combined with the clarity of her voice, which allows us make out her every word, results in a deeply confessional set. She’s far from removed. She is also completely charming – when speaking to the audience in between songs towards the end of her set she is warm, engaging and witty.
The songs from Semper Femina, which make up the majority of the first half of her show, are more demanding and experimental than her previous work. Jazz, blues and country influences are prevalent throughout and the result is stylistically complex and, at times, borderline avant garde.
She is an exceptional songwriter. The complexity of her lyrics only reveal themselves upon multiple listens, managing deftly to weave references to Virgil, Lou Andrea-Saloma and Leonara Carrington (to name but a few), into songs exploring female identity with concision and affection: turning what could become a polarising subject matter into a universal one.
She plays tracks from I Speak Because I Can towards the end of the set, revisiting her older songs with a comforting tenderness but also with a newfound authority. She sounds more sure of herself now, her lyrics still don’t shy away from addressing uncertainty, but she holds herself with an air of self assurance and graceful defiance that is deeply gratifying to witness.