There is no doubt, Laura Marling is good at this performance stuff. She’s definitely got better as well, at least in terms of her apparent ease and comfort whilst doing the live part of her job. And really, there is nothing inherently unusual about that. Regardless of your occupation, you do tend to grow into it.
Whether you’re a baker, a machinist or a molecular biologist, the first few days/weeks/months in a new job can leave you feeling a bit edgy, as you concentrate on not poisoning bread lovers, piercing your boss’s eye with a shard of metal or creating a super virus that will destroy humanity. Given time you settle down, learn the ropes and it gets easier. Until the day when you’re strolling in and doing it with your eyes closed.
Presumably it’s no different for a performer. Four albums (three Mercury nods) in and you’d have to say Marling has her feet under the table, so it isn’t surprising to find her performance tonight is resolutely assured and composed.
The songs display similar traits. The newer the material gets, the more detached it seems. So those from her last album are pretty laissez faire with their heartbreak. It’s quite an interesting contrast at times, and you can’t help but wonder what the Marling of Master Hunter would say to the Marling of Alas I Cannot Swim. She’d probably sigh, point at the bridge hidden around the meander and say that actually, the curly haired boy in no way lives up to expectation.
The opening salvo, consisting of the first four tracks of Once I Was An Eagle, is truly impressive. A quarter of an hour of densely packed, beautifully sketched tales, full of characters and full of character. Plus, the way Marling leans into some of her lines is fantastic: “Every little boy is so naive,” she sings during I Was An Eagle with all of the haughty dismissal of a Michelin starred sommelier being asked if they’ve got anything like Blue Nun, but a bit sweeter.
Take The Night Off ebbs into I Was An Eagle which flows into You Know which saunters into Breathe and it is vivid and enthralling. Equally wonderful are both Master Hunter, fiery and furious, by turns scorned and scornful, and a stunning Blackberry Stone, which seems wearier and more weather beaten than on record.
But occasionally, there’s something lacking. There are times when it feels almost as if the professionalism has sapped the occasion, and it seems like just another day at the office. Not a terrible one, but not a stellar one either; just a middling, standard one. In light of what could have been, that can’t help but be a little disappointing.