The Hammersmith Apollo is an imposing old building; excellent acoustics provided by its high, ceiling stretching all the way back to the seats hidden in row Z. Difficult to fill, one might think, especially if you’re a girl of only 22.
But Laura Marling is no ordinary girl, and last night she rose to the challenge, with a little help from her band. Appearing on-stage and launching straight into I Was Just a Card – followed by The Muse, Don’t Ask Me Why, and Salinas– she immediately made her presence felt acoustically, with the bigger sounding nature of her newer songs helping to fill up the space.
All this is in contrast to the quiet Laura who introduces herself at the start of the show, worried she won’t live up to the grand venue, rambling slightly about coming to watch Steve Martin performing comedy with a ukulele. But as the set progresses she seems to develop, warming to an audience that is already hot for her, with shouted ‘I love you’s and ‘marry me’s at every quiet opportunity. This feels like a homecoming, and in many ways it is; while she may have been born in Hampshire, Marling’s formative musical years were lived in London, and band-member Pete Roe lives down the road, treating us at one point to a potted history of his local watering hole.*
After playing Ghosts and Alas I Cannot Swim, the band depart, clearing the way for what many audience members have truly come to see; a girl alone, with a guitar, playing beautiful, melancholic songs. She starts with a new song, before continuing into Flicker and Fail, apparently an itunes bonus track from her last album, which was in fact a reworking of a song written by her father. It’s a moving effort, oddly reminiscent of Joni Mitchell both in terms of poetry and vocal range, and leads wonderfully into the better known Goodbye England(Covered in Snow). She finishes the solo segment with Failure, before welcoming the band back for the aforementioned facts session, and then launching back into the music with a rousing Alpha Shallows, the extra musical impact really felt on this one.
The set draws down with My Friends, Sophia and then Rambling Man, before the grand announcement that the ensemble are trying to “reappropriate the encore”. This isn’t completely unexpected, as she is known for telling audiences, as she did at Hammersmith: “if you want an encore, this is the last song, if you don’t, it was the penultimate song.” This was followed by a rendition of I Speak Because I Can which left the audience, encore or not, whooping and rising in a standing ovation.
But that was clearly it, and as the audience filed out it did appear that such a finale sold the show a little short. While this is not the place to follow the ins and outs of a mandatory encore, a ‘real’ encore here tonight** would have allowed Marling a chance to perform some of her older, quieter songs to a suitably rapt audience; songs such as New Romantic, My Manic and I, or Night Terror, which were conspicuous by their absence.
Obviously the tour is supporting the latest album, and the set-list did just this – although where was latest single All My Rage? – but Laura Marling has developed a sound that works very well with wistful intimacy, and this was one thing that was lacking in Hammersmith. The venue demanded a fuller sound, and this was what was provided; a performance that showcased the singer as her songwriting and her sound have mtured, but one that just seemed to lack that little, special something.
*This is not quite the non-sequitur it seems, Marling introduces her band with a novel approach, where each member has to provide a fact for the day. This quirky idea sort of works, however the biggest cheer did go to the announcement by bassist Graham Brown’s bantering claim: “I have no banter, either on or off stage”.
**For an example of a ‘real’ encore done right, look at Slow Club’s second encore at Shepherds Bush last year, which even they didn’t expect to continue for quite so long.