By Sam Cleeve
March 2, 2012
Laura Marling’s current UK tour is something of a victory-lap for the Reading-born folkie. Her latest album, A Creature I Don’t Know, was followed by last year’s When The Bell Tolls tour, a jaunt that took in the finest of this country’s cathedrals (and I would guess filled the lot of them to the rafters).
Tonight, in Birmingham’s opulent Symphony Hall – a space perhaps more accustomed to the sounds of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra than this Mercury-nominated songstress – Marling seems quite at home. The seats here are cushioned, ushers polite, and the chances of smuggling a drink between the bar and the auditorium are as good as Marling’s next release being a concept record about The World of Warcraft. She is, for lack of a better way of putting it, everything you might expect her to be – elegant, eloquent, yet still endearingly awkward on stage. This last assertion is something that even she herself addresses: “you might have noticed that my stage banter is not… not what you might expect,” she admits part-way through tonight’s set “so I figure it’s better just to deal in facts,” an admittance that paves the way for the first of tonight’s many ‘facts’ from Marling and her band – odd details and anecdotes on the venue, the lives of the band, and their instruments that leave the audience baffled, but ultimately won over.
Quite why a gentleman (who I can only assume to have visually resembled something out of Shameless, and been furiously gesturing about the place with a half-empty can of Tennent’s) felt compelled to scream “this is total crap!” from the darkness of the balcony after just the third song I don’t suppose I’ll ever know. Nor, I assume, the majority of the audience who just sat in bewildered dismay at this outburst. Never mind: Marling, in a manner thoroughly in keeping with the kind of reverie she seems to be in throughout tonight’s show brushed the incident aside with a dismissive “oh, boy…”
This reverie, whether a preoccupation or simply a level of assuredness earned after spending an absurd number of her deceptively few years honing her craft, is something that comes to characterise tonight’s show. “I’m oddly calm tonight,” she admits some way through tonight’s relatively short set. At a pale hour-and-a-quarter, Marling’s time onstage tonight is relatively brief, but I’d be surprised if anyone (leave, perhaps, the dishevelled phantom from the balcony) felt short-changed. With the set that borrowed fairly from each album, with A Creature I Don’t Know being perhaps best represented – there’s nothing of a fanfare about tonight’s show. From the moment Marling and her band shuffle onto the stage (“I feel like we’re a bit scruffy,” she says, noting the incongruity between the grand aesthetics of the venue and the appearance of the performers), and the encore-less close, Marling and her band do what they do best – no fireworks, no drama, but simply a charming show from six musicians who seem so comfortable playing these songs, that you can’t help but leave with the same sense of tranquility that Marling seemed to be experiencing onstage tonight.