(Photos: Tim Ellis)

The Laura Marling playing an electric guitar Monday night looked nothing like the Laura Marling of previous years. The pale, sullen-faced image she projected in her late teens and early 20s had been replaced with a seasoned 25-year-old who seemed eager to play to and off the crowd, at times as the frontwoman of a would-be rock band. Yet, the Brit folk artist’s sweet spot during her hour-long set remained her quiet material, brimming with intricate tales of heartache and lost love.

Moments after uptempo bluegrass number “Master Hunter” moved the audience to yelps and screams of approval, Marling declared it was time for calm. “This is just the bummer bit in the middle,” she announced before playing “Walk Alone” and “David,” songs that suggested Marling’s brand of melancholy works best with minimal accompaniment. When Marling flubbed the start of “What We Wrote,” she uttered a profanity, then covered her mouth in embarrassment. The ensuing crowd laughter insured the minor performance sin would be forgiven. Marling’s 10-minute-plus solo acoustic medley including “I was an Eagle” and “You Know” further pacified any doubts that her talent – particularly her voice, which switched from husky to delicate to soaring with the speed of a bullet train – had melted away.

Marling is touring America on the back of her fifth studio album, Short Movie, which has been described in various publications as approachable, searching and comfortable in its own skin. The record originated after she spent several months living in Los Angeles, existing free of any type of expectations as an artist – either as a person worthy of praise or one who needs to perform. Based on the performance, her time adrift in L.A. seems to have provided her a newfound joy toward performing. No longer is it something to be endured, as it appeared when I saw her at Coachella in 2012.

Marling started the show with two electric numbers from Short Movie – “False Hope” and “I Feel Your Love.” The third song, “Devil’s Spoke,” combined Marling’s acoustic guitar, an upright bass and a swift tempo to incite hoots and hollers from the crowd. “You’re a lively bunch,” Marling remarked after the song’s close. The venue’s acoustics made the fans’ applause sound like everyone had coalesced into one crazed blob in the room’s center. Marling maintained this devotion through her “bummer” section into the rock portion she promised would follow. “It’s hard to accept yourself as someone you don’t desire and someone you don’t want to be,” Marling sang on “Rambling Man” which, despite its dour lyrics, inspired the night’s first clap-along.

Even Marling’s no-encore policy did not slow down the crowd’s lovefest toward her. “You can get a little loose,” she encouraged the audience before playing her final two songs – “Gurdjieff’s Daughter” and “Short Movie.” “I’m a little loose,” she joked. One doesn’t attend a Laura Marling show expecting to get loose, or at least in the past they didn’t. Perhaps in the future, if this new emboldened version of Marling is any indication, they should.

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