Review Panel: Laura Marling, The Metro Theatre, Sydney

Laura Marling
Image Courtesy of marigae2008

Laura Marling supported by Johnny Flynn (solo) and Boy & Bear
2nd August, Metro Theatre
Sydney

We’re going to try something a little different here at Timber and Steel. Given that three of our very talented writers were at Laura Marling’s Sydney Metro show this week and we were at a stalemate as to who would write the review we thought we’d share with you all three impressions of the show in our first ever “Panel Review”. And if it’s successful then maybe it’s something we’ll try again in future. So without further ado we give you our reviewers Evan Hughes, KTBell and Mackajay.

Evan: To say I’d been looking forward to this gig for sometime would be an understatement. Not only was it another chance to catch Laura Marling this year (I missed her Sydney Festival shows in January) but it was also going to be the first time seeing the wonderful Johnny Flynn, an artist I’d been avidly listening to since I downloaded A Larum early last year. Couple with this an appearance by the always solid Boy & Bear and this was going to be an absolutely cracking gig.

KTBell: Having only discovered Laura Marling in the last few months, and with Evan and Mackajay waxing lyrical about this girl, I bought a ticket without a second thought. At that time I may have listened to her album once, had never heard of Johnny Flynn and had heard one or two Boy & Bear tunes. Boy do I trust the opinions of these two!

Mackajay: Last time I saw Laura Marling was at the Factory Theatre two years ago, supported by an incredible, and largely unknown at the time, Marcus Mumford.  It was a lively, honest and unforgettable show and I was incredibly keen to hear some of Laura’s new material performed live.  I was however perhaps even a tad more excited to see Johnny Flynn for the first time on these shores (for full disclosure I am un-apologetically a huge fan of his recorded music)

Evan: We walked into the Metro just as Johnny Flynn was taking the stage for his first song. Sans his band The Sussex Wit, Flynn reminded me of a young Dylan, armed with just an acoustic guitar and that ageless voice. The crowd was surprisingly large and respectful to what was essentially an unknown, third billed support act responding to each song with whoops of encouragement and pretty meaty applause. Flynn made his way through a good cross section of his back catalogue including “The Wrote and the Writ”, “Been Listening” and “Tunnels”, stumbling once on his words (due to jet lag). Finishing with the wonderful “Tickle Me Pink” this reviewer at least wishes there’d been more than half an hour to his set (or even a headline gig elsewhere) although I’m glad I got the chance to see him.

KTBell: Let me start by saying – I won’t be surprised if Johnny Flynn becomes one of those artists who regularly has girls scream out “Marry Me, Johnny!” The epitome of the dashing young gent, complete with the charming demeanour and English accent, if looks alone are not enough, the sheer beauty of his voice will take you away to another world. For someone who claimed to be jet-lagged and still delivers such clear, strong vocals, I’d love to see him when he’s not jet-lagged! His style and performance lulled me, and the audience seemed also to appreciate his overwhelming talent. 

Mackajay: Johnny Flynn started his set with the wonderful “Lost and Found” from his new album Been Listening.  His handling of his trademark resonator guitar was accomplished as he wound his way through a very eclectic set-list that seemed to be formulated right there on the spot as he decided what to play. Vocally there was little to hint at the jet-lag he professed to have, although stumbling mid-song was a dead giveaway, and for another artist may not have been forgivable.  The larger-than-expected crowd was on Johnny’s side however, and were vocal, and seemed to know Johnny’s older music well – one girl next to me yelling ‘play “Leftovers”!’ at every opportunity.  Like Evan, I loved “Tickle Me Pick” but was less impressed by “Been listening”, which, shorn of it’s meaty guitar solo, didn’t seem to carry as much weight.  I really hope we can one day see a full Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit headline show here on our shores soon.

Evan: There’s a reason why Australia’s hardest working band Boy & Bear continually get tapped to play these support slots. They seem to treat every show as if it’s their own without ever coming across as arrogant. Being a five piece Boy & Bear’s sound is pretty big and definitely well suited to a venue the size of The Metro. The full audience was treated to every track off With Emperor Antarctica along with a couple of new songs (one of which lead singer Dave Hosking described as the band “going country”) and their now famous cover of Bon Iver’s “Flume”. It’s only a matter of time before Boy & Bear start headline venues like The Metro judging by the reaction of the audience – yet another solid effort by the guys.

KTBell: Having only seen Boy & Bear once before at a festival, in a cavernous hall, the Metro seemed a venue far more suited to their style. They are so at home on the stage and I, along with the rest of the audience I assume, felt so comfortable and intimate with them. In this setting, their performance truely enveloped the crowd, many were swept away with their performance, giggling along with their on stage banter and jokes about the tea towel shirt on Hosking and stomping, clapping and tapping along with so many now favourite songs. Hosking admitted that they had had a 6 week holiday recently, 2 weeks of which was set aside for them to write new songs since they were getting in trouble for having such short sets – a true sign that their popularity is growing in leaps and bounds. Their new stuff was as enjoyable as their old stuff, and we’ll even forgive them their country song, but the song that started it all, “The Storm”, was still my favourite and a real crowd pleaser. At the end of their set, I had to comment to our posse, that I just love that they are 5 men, playing instruments and still creating stunning harmonies. And none of these boy-band style harmonies, real delicate, subtle, closely aligned harmonies ever prevalent in older style and traditional folk music.

Mackajay: I’ve lost track of the times I’ve seen Boy and Bear, and their show is always rock solid.  Possibly it’s because I always seem to see them in support slots but I often feel that their songs tend to blend from one to another a little too easily, mainly because the instrumentation between the tracks  and the (excellent) harmonies tend to remain in a similar tonal range. I think it is no co-incidence that the tracks of theirs that tend to get the most radio play are the songs with the most dynamic changes, and these certainly stood out last night, and I would be lying if I (and the crowd) didn’t enjoy their performance.

Evan: The last time I saw Laura Marling she was a timid teenager playing to a curious post-Splendour crowd at Sydney’s Factory Theatre. Two years later and Marling has evolved into a confident, sweet performer who obviously has a genuine love for what she does and for her audience. Unlike last time Marling was joined by a full band including, for the nu-folk music nerds among us, Pete Roe on keyboards, electric guitar and harmonium and Marcus Mumford on mandolin and backing vocals (which is unlikely to be repeated every night of the tour given the competing schedules between Marling and Mumford and Sons).

KTBell: I may be committing blog-suicide here, but the only person I recognised walking out on to that stage was Marcus Mumford. My only image of Laura Marling was the cover of I Speak Because I Can, so forgive me for assuming she was a brunette. Once she opened her mouth, well, I was taken with her.

Mackajay: I think my good friends were a little afraid of what I might do if Laura played “Alas I Cannot Swim” considering how much I enjoyed it last time they played , When thinking back to the super-fast rendition that Marcus and Laura played at the Factory, I still get a warm glow.

Evan: Marling began her set with one of the best songs of the year “Devil’s Spoke” and then it only got better. Plundering most of her new album I Speak Because I Can as well as favourites from Alas I Cannot Swim Marling had the audience hanging on her every word and singing along with every chorus. Definite highlights throughout the night included “Ghosts” and “My Manic and I”.

KTBell: Laura took a lovely approach of introducing her band staggered between songs. She declared that it was to give her band members a taste of how awkward she feels when left to the microphone between songs. Amusingly, her band weren’t very talkative.  Laura’s self confessed awkwardness  actually translated as more of a laid back, latent humour in tune with her fans. She had the entire audience in fits of giggles throughout the evening, so we can only hope she no longer feels awkward and embraces the wonderful warm personality she conveys both in song and in the small talk. I also particularly enjoyed watching Pete Roe switch between instruments, and particularly loved the smooth flowing touch he took to the harmonium and hearing the resulting layer it adds to each song.

Mackajay: I was delighted to see Pete Roe, whom I recognised from his brief performance at the first Communion gig in Sydney, and also to see Marcus Mumford.  The fact that this group of artists want to play together at every opportunity they possibly can, even when they have their own hectic performance schedules gives each performance the feeling of a cosy jam-session.

Evan: The middle solo set to Marling’s performance saw her debut two new songs (maybe for her rumoured upcoming album?) as well as showcasing her unique voice backed solely by her acoustic guitar. After asking the audience to whistle the fiddle solo for “Night Terror” Marling added yet another string to her musical bow by out-whistling the 1,500 strong capacity crowd both through pursed lips and gritted teeth, gaining her a rapturous applause.

KTBell: You know a performer is good when the entire audience is silent. You know a performer is amazing when the audience stops even taking photos, to listen. Laura had us all transfixed and well in to her solo songs, I really noticed how still and focused the crowd was. We were hanging on her every word. Her new works were haunting and endearing at the same time and I look forward to listening to them again. One of the wonderful things I really connected with during her performance, which I hadn’t so strongly identified on the album (mixed playlists and ‘shuffle’ will do that) is her storytelling ability. Such strong narratives through many of her tunes are appreciated so much more live, with her personal accents and additions, stories and small talk around her set. It was also lovely to see how chuffed she was with us as an audience, as we sang along word for word, clear as a bell, she couldn’t help the wry grin spread across her face.

Mackajay: I was most pleasantly surprised by “Made by Maid”, whilst I like the album version, Laura’s brief intro of the backstory of the folk legend of The Babe in the Woods gave the story of the song a context that it hadn’t had for me before. In fact the acoustic songs that Laura played, including some new material, was confident and spellbinding.  There were many “pin-drop” moments where the audience were enthralled to the point of almost not breathing, before erupting into tumultuous applause at the end of each song, and some good-old-fashioned banter with the crowd – which Laura seemed to really enjoy.  (If anyone can remember the name of that second new song that Laura played and can help me out with the title, I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for a recorded version, it was a cracker!)

Evan: Bizarrely when Marling’s band returned to the stage after her solo set Pete Roe had shaved off his 2 year old beard. The stunt was clearly not planned which set the audience off in a fit of laughter and threw Marling as she attempted to play the opening chords of her next song. She quickly regained her composure (although the quizzical looks towards Roe continued for the rest of the night) and finished out her performance just as she had begun – full of confidence and grace. Explaining to the audience that she didn’t do encores (“unless we turn into AC/DC”) Marling finished up with a boisterous version of “Alas I Cannot Swim” leaving the audience wanting more but ultimately thrilled with what was surely one of the best gigs of the year.

KTBell: Having admitted that she really likes playing to an Australian audience, along with the explanation of not playing encores (she was amused that the audience clapped that announcement and that that was the first time it had ever got a clap), it was testament to her performance and rapport with us, that between her second last and final songs, the crowd erupted into frenzied applause, whistling and screaming, demanding an encore. She smiled, a little perplexed and quite humbly thanked us, then proceeded to show her real thanks with an incredible and rousing finale. At the end of each set, I always wanted more but in a good way, a true sign of an incredible and engaging gig.

Mackajay: Laura: “Um did anyone else notice that Pete Roe suddenly hasn’t got a beard”
Pete: “It was the source of my power…. I had to sort it out”
Laura: (laughs) “It’s really rather a shame as I have to play a very serious song now”
As they launch into “I speak because I can” I’m left wondering what the heck happened backstage…

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8 Comments

  1. Arbella said,

    August 5, 2010 at 02:12

    Hey anyone

    Did Johnny Flynn duet with Laura on The Water as rumoured? I’m from interstate!

    Great review.

    • Evan Hughes said,

      August 5, 2010 at 08:12

      Sadly no – I was hoping it would happen but it was a purely solo set. Maybe in Melbourne last night?

  2. Arbella said,

    August 5, 2010 at 16:03

    I was hoping so as it had been touted. I don’t think they did it in Melbourne though I bloody fainted about 3 songs before she finished (lesson: eat dinner before going to a gig) so I can’t be 100 percent sure.

  3. Arbella said,

    August 6, 2010 at 03:33

    OK, there was no The Water duet tonight (Thur) in Melbourne, either. Um, I ate this time so no fainting!

    Johnny was sublime, remarkable – everyone should catch him on other upcoming Australian dates.

  4. August 6, 2010 at 16:03

    Keep your eyes posted for a T&S exclusive interview with Johnny Flynn very very soon…

  5. August 16, 2011 at 13:15

    I loved this one.

  6. February 13, 2012 at 12:18

    [...] different. That is to say, we made up a good excuse so that everyone could go. The result was our Panel Review of her 2010 show at the Factory Theare. And a lot of fun for all [...]

  7. August 30, 2013 at 09:57

    […] a chance you know Pete Roe as the sometimes-touring pianist for Laura Marling (he famously shaved off his beard mid set at a Laura Marling concert in Sydney a few years back) or for his really interesting solo work that has evolved from it’s jazzy beginnings to his […]


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