Review Panel: Laura Marling, Forum Theatre, Melbourne

Laura Marling
Image Courtesy of The AU Review

Laura Marling supported by Husky
2nd February 2012, Forum Theatre
Melbourne

Last time Laura Marling came to Australia, we at Timber and Steel decided to do something a bit 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 involved.

Since then she’s released her much-anticipated third album, and as Evan’s album review happily pointed out, it was as good as we expected it would be. It was inevitable that, in deciding who would get to review her this time round, the same problem would arise. Thankfully, we knew what to do, and the decision was made even easier by the fact that this time our reviewers are a couple. We therefore present JDX and Serena Sky, and their take on Laura’s show at the Forum theater last Thursday night.

Queue cheesy segue music…

Serena Sky: Ahh…The Forum. One of the most amazing venues in Melbourne – one of the oldest too. Built in 1929 complete with Greek/Roman statues, pillars and painted ceiling that mimics the stars above, it’s designed to look like the balmy summer evening outside. Absolutely perfect for Laura Marling.

JDX: This was my first time there, and despite all the venues I’ve visited in Brisbane, and despite having less of a sense of its visual grandeur, it was easy to recognize the “epicness” of this room as the crowd poured in around us. Also the wine was nice. That helps.

Serena Sky: And pour in they did! Laura Marling and Husky sold out the house, and the atmosphere was fantastic. It was amazing to see the cross section these two performers brought in, from pre-teens with parents to pregnant mums, to old school rockers complete with leather pants and literally everyone in between. So, amazing crowd, loads of excellent people watching to be done, and good wine. Pity Husky didn’t quite manage to gather their entire collective attention.

JDX: I was a bit fearful for Laura based on the reception they got. Admittedly, Husky is quite laid back, despite the complexity of their musicianship. But it nonetheless was a little uncomfortable, in a venue like this, to hear a band so thoroughly drowned.

Serena Sky: Indeed. This was my first experience with Husky and while I found the sound impeccable and their musicianship plainly obvious (particularly pianist Gideon Preiss) I must admit I did think that I heard the same song more than once. Their interaction with the crowd was sparse, and between them as a band, sparser still, which was saddening, because I am really interested in the sound they are producing, and their talent was so obvious.

JDX: I think that at this stage they’re much more comfortable in studio, and having heard “Forever So” with headphones on really helped me to understand what they were trying to do. And sometimes it worked. The seventies swagger of “Fake Mustache” and the way it drops unexpectedly into a Pet Sounds breakdown was really fun to listen to. And Preiss was definitely the star of the show. It’s refreshing to hear such vibrant playing in an Australian band. Classical piano technique is about due for a comeback and Husky might be the band to do it. The theatrical intro to closing number “The Woods” was loads of fun. But I don’t think they’ve entirely worked out how to translate the intricacy of their sound into a live context yet, and as a result I don’t think this could have been the best introduction to them.

Serena Sky: Perhaps not, and some bands certainly fair better at really… jumping in with both feet in a situation like that, but, I’m still very interested in them, and the piano skill shown by Preiss was enough to sell them to me single handedly! However, the crowd was a little keen for the main event, and a bit too chatty, though, as soon as Laura and her band strode on stage (after the cheer, of course) they were struck silent, eager to catch each of her quiet and self-depreciating but adorable words.

JDX: Yeah. What Husky may have lacked in charisma, Laura certainly had, despite her modesty. From the tremulous cello and violin that heralded “I Was Just a Card”, the crowd was struck silent.

Serena Sky: That cello was amazing. It had such a rich sound, and was so beautifully played by Ruth “Moose” de Turberville despite her “coffee induced shakes”. The whole band was incredibly tight, totally in sync with the sound Laura has built, and superbly talented. Marcus Hamblett and Pete Rowe were incredible, swapping between bass, banjo and violin, or keys and guitar respectively throughout the set. Before we go into particulars, it’s worth noting that if ever a band reproduced a studio sound with that confidence and ability, I hadn’t seen it. They were faultless, all night, even tuning up and down mid song. This replication of studio sound is important to Marling. She noted that she “sometimes goes to gigs” and, as a musician and a spectator, gets really annoyed when they “totally change the songs they (the audience) knew and paid to come and see.” These little quips came out all night. It was really an incredibly intimate performance despite the size of the venue, with Laura talking very honestly about her family and her experiences, her pet hates and goals in life.

JDX: She was, as you’d expect, quite self-conscious in everything she said. “My new technique for stage banter is facts”, she told us early on, anticipating a punch line later on in the show. The joke was on the band, who she volunteered each to offer us a fact of their own, with hilarious results. Pete told us more about Europa, (moon of Jupiter) that night, than we’d ever expected to know. I think we found this so remarkable because Laura frames herself obscurely in her songs. They seem to tap into something timeless, something more weary, but also more romantic than anything our crass modern life offers her. It’s hard to equate that kind of old-world wisdom with a girl performing the day after her twenty-second birthday, someone sympathetic to us because she’s been where we’ve been. It’s hard to separate her from her performance and poetry, to imagine her as a girl in a band on tour, still routinely humbled by the whole experience.

Serena Sky: It is, so hard. You never notice how young she actually is till she’s standing in front of you, telling you how she’s “already failed” when it comes to dropping her habit of “dressing like a child” (Simple jeans and a tee) yet, then, she whips out the most incredible solo acoustic set, a single spotlight on her, three guitars in rotation, just standing, that immaculate voice pouring forth.

JDX: It can do so much, from the tenderness in “Failure” to the harshness in “Night After Night”. In that set she covered “My Winding Wheel” by Ryan Adams, a veteran song-writer who recently admitted that she made him feel insignificant.

Serena Sky: And, it’s easy to see why. I’m not familiar with Ryan Adams, and I’m not entirely sure why she covered that song – it was in an odd place and detracted a little from her power, but she is so polished, so perfect, and so young, so profound and delicate that It would be hard not to feel small in her presence, no matter how unassuming she is. It was in that same set that she played “Good Bye to England (Covered in Snow)” which was her standout moment for me, (closely followed by “Sophia”) and I really have no other words that do it justice so I’ll just say “really good.” And, I think that’s how most of the audience felt. While everyone knew her lyrics, her melodies and were quietly humming or foot tapping, it felt intrusive to sing along, to mar her serenity with our harsh vocals, our shot at “stadium sing- a long.” She generated enough on her own, more than enough. So we just sat back and listened.

JDX: I think “really good” is pretty much Timber and Steel’s line on Laura Marling. I mean, who expected us to say anything else? As one of our first inspirations she is the perfect illustration of everything we look for in folk music, in the revival of the past in hope of revealing something about this seemingly unreal present. That serenity she has is something we desperately want, because it is profound, and it is special. And in every character or facet in her voice she demonstrates that she is the real thing.

Serena Sky: That “realness” that comes through is inescapable and tangible, from the cute smile she offered to her band members as they came back on stage to join her for the “end and encore that wasn’t an encore” to the passion she put into “Rambling Man”. This song was particularly spectacular, with all five members of her band singing backing vocals, almost gospel style, heavily driven by the swirling banjo lines and crunching drums. While “Rambling Man” wasn’t the actual closing number, Marling did explain how she also “hated encores” and how artists left “their best songs till the encore” just to be called back onstage, and thus said, “ok that was the last song if you wanted an encore, and the second last if you don’t want an encore,” before playing “All My Rage”, the final song from A Creature I Don’t Know. She said they just weren’t “rock and roll enough to do that” (the whole walk-off-stage-come-back routine) and I think in that way, she summed it up quite nicely herself. She’s not trying to be anything else. She’s just sharing with us, sharing her music and her stories, true to her humility and her shyness, true to herself.

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2 Comments

  1. April 27, 2012 at 10:57

    There’s no violin in the band. Were you perhaps referring to Marcus Hamblett’s “mandolin”?

  2. April 27, 2012 at 10:58

    There’s no violin in the band. Are you perhaps referring to Marcus Hamblett’s mandolin?


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