Laura Marling At Amoeba, Monday May 20th 2013
Laura Marling wanted ‘less guitar’ during her sound check at Amoeba, she already sounded lovely, and half an hour later she gave one of the most breathtaking performances I have ever seen. Alone on the small stage, with her acoustic guitar and her stunning voice, her set was so intense it turned the large crowd totally quiet right away. I even think I was one of the rare persons taking pictures – an extremely odd thing in this iPhone age – seriously, everyone’s attention was completely absorbed, in awe of this young woman with her guitar.
She started with a long one, which was actually the four first tracks (‘Take the Night Of’/’I Was an Eagle’/ ‘You know’/’Breathe’) of her new album ‘Once I was an Eagle’, delicately and slowly breathing into each other, without taking a brake, building a continuous mood, a dark one, as Laura was saying a lot of words, singing, speaking, crooning ‘I won’t be a victim of romance’, above a folky-moody guitar, and this subjacent sitar-like almost ancient, even medieval tone in the background. It was anything but conventional, this long musical introduction to her world, but she did it with a deep voice and a rare confidence. Who else can sing some ‘it ain’t me babe’ with that aplomb in a song that already has some pure Dylan-esque accents? ‘Master Hunter’ may have effectively been my favorite, with Laura going into some stomping mode while staying in total control.
If she is English, she knows her Americana, but it’s not mainstream Americana nor generic Americana but ultra-personal Americana. I have read a review of ‘Once I Was an Eagle’ that had so many references to different musicians, many whom I didn’t know, that it looked like a folk-country section end-of-the-year store inventory. But at the end, it doesn’t really matter, even though she may sound at times like Joni Mitchell, Laura Marling does her own thing. The music is quiet and hypnotic, with an omnipresent underground anger ready to jump at each guitar chord progression, the lyrics are confessional and the emotion is raw.
There is probably no article about Laura Marling which doesn’t mention her young age, 23, and her amazing accomplishment, four albums. And you read these words, mature, wise-beyond-her-years, confident, and all this is true. Live, Laura is very serious, meticulous, concentrated on her playing, emerged in her art, only cracking a smile when her guitar is out of tune, ‘I should get another guitar’, she said when tuning for ‘Once’, a beautiful and melancholic gospel-porch-ballad. There was actually nothing wrong with her guitar, the fingerpicking was superb, and her music, played so stripped down, was powerful, intimate and defiant.
Her album ‘Once I Was an Eagle’ is not released before next week, but she was already signing posters for people who had pre-ordered it. At Amoeba, she sounded and looked very pensive, more like a spirit wandering in her own thoughts than a real being. I read that she recently moved in my neighborhood, Silver Lake, but you wouldn’t tell, these songs had no trace of location or time attached to them. Timeless? I bet this term has been used a lot to describe her craft, but isn’t it what exactly qualifies true art?