But then she starts up a song and something takes flight. Her voice is a surge of power, over which she has absolute mastery. Marling can summon Joan Baez’ soprano, Janis Joplin’s roar and Patti Smith’s snarl in a single song. She’s not afraid to sound ugly: she forces her voice to curdle and crack, and her guitar switches between silkiness and thorniness. Her live performance confirms it: she’s now one of the greats.
Back in London after an extended spell in Los Angeles, the three-time Mercury nominee is promoting her fifth record, the much praised Short Movie with a four-night residency in the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Short Movie shows Marling, one of the best songwriters of our time, shifting shape yet again. The album moves away, with purpose, from the folk sensibilities that used to define her: it is a love affair with the electric guitar.
There’s a lot of Los Angeles in the album: you can hear the desert in the reverb, the concrete in the chugging riffs. She transformed I Feel Your Love into a whiskey-sodden rock-out that will have disgruntled folk purists and fans of her first album, Alas, I Cannot Swim. False Hope is a teeth-gnashing rocker that wouldn’t sound out of place in a PJ Harvey or Pixies set.
But then, these heavy-duty numbers are counter-balanced by the inclusion of Goodbye England and Jackson C. Frank’s Blues Run The Game: a reminder of her acoustic roots.
Behind Marling, throughout the set, is a panorama of the desert, with the highway behind it, as light fails on an LA evening. There is a single track of footprints in the sand, leading off into the distance. We know that Marling has been soul-searching. We can hear it in her music, her Lyrics “Living here is I game I really don’t knowhow to be play”/ How did I get lost/ looking for God in Santa Cruz? / “Gurdjeff’s daughter.”
We can even hear it in her accent: Marling affects an, at times, mildly irritating American twang. Whatever she’s looking for she hasn’t found yet. She is still a bundle of contradictions: where self-doubt meets braggadocio, English equivocation meets LA swagger and Earth Mother meets Riot Grrrl.
Her journeying, though, wherever it might end, is a joy to watch.
|What||Laura Marling, Queen Elizabeth Hall|
|Where||Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
On 20 Apr 15, 7:30 PM – 10:30 PM
On 21 Apr 15, 7:30 PM – 10:30 PM
On 29 Apr 15, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
On 30 Apr 15, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM