“It’s nice to be back at the Thekla, I last played here nearly 10 years ago when I was 17 and was supporting with Noah And The Whale,” explains Laura Marling, a few songs into her set, to a crowd that is hanging on to every one of her quietly spoken words. Tonight’s show, which sees the singer-songwriter return to the cramped boat venue after almost a decade, is her final performance in a mini UK tour preceding the release of 25-year-old’s fifth album.
In many ways, the venue is the perfect setting for Marling to test the water with a significant handful of new tracks. Thekla’s dark and dingy performance area – complete with sticky wooden floors – may be more used to up and coming indie acts, but it appears to be more than suitable for the direction of Marling’s new record, Short Movie, which she has previously said is inspired by her time living in America.
The reason for this particular choice of venue certainly becomes clearer after Marling launches into the first song of the evening. False Hope. Taken from her upcoming album, it kicks the set off and sounds incredible in the process. Its gritty guitar hook provides the perfect platform for a more assured Marling vocal, one that only wavers towards vulnerability on the soaring chorus.
Another newbie, I Feel Your Love, sees her retain the electric guitar for a haunting performance that gradually builds towards a mammoth chorus. These new tracks certainly give the impression that Marling has moved away from her more traditional, acoustic leanings on Short Movie and it makes for an interesting comparison when she does return to more delicate compositions throughout the set.
The first song from Marling’s four-album back catalogue to make an appearance is Devil’s Spoke – from 2010’s I Speak Because I Can – which fits in nicely with her new material despite relying heavily on the acoustic guitar. It is arguably one of her more fiercely performed tracks and leads perfectly into Warrior, which is another new one that initially sounds quite laid back, until its driving guitar riff kicks in towards the end.
“I can’t be your horse anymore/ you’re not the warrior I died for,” Marling sings defiantly, as the audience looks on, almost as if in a trance. Master Hunter, taken from 2013’s Once I Was An Eagle, also feels at home alongside the heavier electronic guitar tracks that front up the first half of the set. But for those who enjoy Marling most when she is at her most fragile, the second half of her performance has plenty for them to get their teeth into.
Walk Alone – the first genuine slow song from the new record to get an airing – is a perfect example of how Marling can reduce a room to complete silence, as every pluck of her guitar reverberates around Thekla’s walls. “I think that you were wrong/ you said I can’t love,” she sings, with only the sound of the buzzing fridge behind the bar and a coke being dispensed by one of the bar staff audible when Marling’s voice isn’t filling up the room.
Fan favourites What He Wrote, Rambling Man and I Speak Because I Can from Marling’s second record also get a run out during the more restrained second half of the set, while a sing-along breaks out to Salinas – from 2011’s A Creature I Don’t Know. Finishing as she started, Marling concludes her set with two more from her new album, including the impressive title track, which sends everyone home safe in the knowledge that Short Movie is showing all the signs of being an album of the year contender.