Marling’s live show is just as emotionally powerful as her studio work, if not more so.
(Photo: Laura Knapp)
After a seemingly never-ending month of rain and grey clouds, Boston experienced its first sunny day of the late spring. With all sorts of greenery emerging from the haze, perhaps the city took its cue from Laura Marling’s flower-adorned stage. In the middle of a world tour behind the recently released Semper Femina, another delightfully subdued take on her pastoral British folk, Marling’s laid back yet captivating presence and windswept songwriting was just the celebration Boston needed after such dreary days.
Marling’s live show adds a charmingly untamed aspect to her music. Surrounded by a tight five- piece band that grooved at all the right moments, she stood center stage, staring off into the distance before cracking a slight smile and then, feeding off of the crowd’s excitement, an even bigger one. “You’re a very lively crowd!” she exclaimed with a sly smirk. “You do know it’s only Tuesday, right?”
With a voice that’s strong and unwavering, Marling has a commanding power even as she slyly whispers or gently coos. Set opener “Soothing” lulled the crowd into a soft rhythm, its Portishead-like bassline holding up a skeletal arrangement that led to soft swaying throughout the crowd. “Wild Fire” followed, its originally softer backing given newfound energy as Marling proudly and angrily emphasized, “I can take it all away/ You can stop playing that shit out on me,” as she visibly loosened up.
The tempered balladry of “The Valley,” with ghostly harmonies provided by sisters Emma and Tamsin Topolski, was an early highlight. But “Don’t Pass Me By” was the spark to Marling’s flame. As its tightly-coiled guitar riff wrapped around a tense drum machine beat, Marling’s band heated up to an active simmer, right on the cusp of boiling, but never overflowing. Her backing band is all about those kind of enthralling dynamics: they’d dramatically swoop in at the right moment to give her powerful support, and also knew when to hold back and let Marling’s voice fill the room with warmth.
With a setlist akin to a rolling hillside, steadily building and gently releasing, the Paradise paid rapt attention to every emotional peak and valley. “Always This Way” followed and quickly dissipated the energized mood, but the beautiful and stately songwriting proved to be as equally captivating thanks to Marling’s warm charm.
She proved most engrossing all on her own with a three song solo set, a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “For the Sake of the Song” nestled between the brooding balladry of “What He Wrote” and the yearning beauty of “Wild Once.”
Although she’s primarily known for her songwriting, Marling’s guitar playing is exquisite, from the rhythmic, open turnings of Joni Mitchell to tight arpeggiated runs reminiscent of Johnny Marr, all brought together under the folk/rock umbrella of Richard Thompson. Slowly evolving over the course of the night, Marling initially started off with brief, subtle flourishes that eventually morphed into the confidently swift picking of “Daisy” and the cinematic build-up of “Sophia.”
“We don’t do encores, but we have a system!” excitedly exclaimed Marling before her closing number. “If you don’t want an encore, the last song was the second to last song. If you wanted one? The last song was the last song!” And, with that, the heavy folk of “Ramblin’ Man” brought things to a striking close. For more than 10 years, Marling has established herself as a riveting antidote to the sometimes stagnant, sometimes commercialized world of modern folk. Lucky for us, her live show is just as emotionally powerful as her studio work, if not more so. More Tuesday nights should be like this.