Laura Marling is the latest in series of performers who have surprised me with their popularity. Her new album I Speak Because I Can added new depth and strength to her sound but certainly didn’t steer her in a distinctly commercial direction and yet she now finds herself with a sold out gig in the Academy and her name on everyone’s lips. I’m not quite sure how this happened, but I won’t question why as long as more people listen to music of this quality. As a live performer tonight, she is confident and professional. The focus is completely on her music and not on what she’s wearing or what her hair is like. There is none of the glitz and glam that accompanied the recent gigs by her female contemporaries. Marling does seem to lack the kind of stage presence necessary to command venues of this size but her fans are here to listen and remain respectfully engaged throughout her set with minimal noise other than the unanimous vocal accompaniment that several songs were greeted with.
So assured is her current crop of songs that she barely touches her material from the debut album Alas I Can Not Swim. Given the difference in style and set-up since those days, she is entirely justified in using those stripped-down solo numbers sparingly in her set. The set began strongly with the excellent “Hope In The Air” and the more boisterous “Rambling Man” appearing early on before an outing for old favourite “Ghosts”. The audience were also treated to a brief but enjoyable cover of Neil Young’s “The Needle and The Damage Done” and a story about how her mother unknowingly told people that Marling herself had composed the song. Another single from the new album, “Goodbye England”, was an obvious highlight and the response from the crowd was suitably fervent. Another enthusiastic cheer arose for the simple but delightful title-track of her debut album. After reaching an agreement on how to negotiate the awkward tradition of encores, the slightly more grandiose title-track of her new album “I Speak Because I Can” closed out a show which confirmed everything that made the masses fall for Marling’s style without adding a huge amount to the recorded versions. Photos of the prodigious lady herself are below, on Flickr and on State.