Three years ago Laura Marling barely looked up from her shoes when she performed. Flanked by members of the then unknown Mumford And Sons, she encouraged Marcus Mumford to do the talking in between songs, shuffling uneasily beneath the house lights.
Fast forward to 2010 and a packed crowd in the ornate Palladium, and it’s immediately striking how things have changed. Marling no longer averts her eyes or mumbles pleasantries and a voice that only hinted at repressed emotion on debut Alas, I Cannot Swim, now swells and soars through every song from the follow-up, I Speak Because I Can.
Arriving suddenly and with little fanfare, Marling and her four band mates launch into a fuller, more Celtic-flavoured Devil’s Spoke. Whilst the album version meanders slightly, live it rattles along at a pace that’s almost breathless and at the final strum the Palladium erupts. Hope In The Air and Rambling Man quickly follow, the former added a more dramatic weight by the stark lighting, whilst the latter showcases the new textures Marling has discovered in her voice.
Throughout the gig, Marling is chatty and endearing, noting that every anecdote we hear tonight she’s rehearsed at every gig on the tour so far. During a cover of Neil Young‘s The Needle And The Damage Done she tells us she used to play it at her early gigs and that her mum told everyone she’d wrote it, unaware of its subject matter. It comes during a seven song acoustic set which finds her alone, centre stage, holding court and looking every inch the genuine article. Two new songs are premiered, and it’s in this stripped down setting that the majority of songs from her debut are played.
Night Terror, an almost gothic love story, is sweetened by a genuinely amazing whistling solo, which Marling herself had presaged with an atypical gloat of it being “pretty tip-top”. Made By Maid not only provides another example of her spine-chilling vocals but also her way with a six-string, whilst My Manic And I almost glowers in suppressed rage.
The idea of suppressed emotions is a prominent theme in most of the songs, casting them as simultaneously of another time and modern-day. When she sings “never rode my bike down to the sea” during the final I Speak Because I Can, it’s loaded with ideas of not taking risks or not being able to break free from some unnamed shackles. Whatever shackles there had been for Marling, at least as a performer, seem to have been broken – and in devastating fashion.