Laura Marling: All-out review

A few weeks ago I accidentally hit the wrong button on my car radio and switched to an AM station called Radio K, a low-powered station run by students at the local university.

I really, really liked the song that was playing. This is why we all have apps on our phones that can identify songs for you. This is how I found out about Laura Marling. Now since this was a low-powered crap quality AM transmission I wasn’t sure if the song actually sounded the way I thought it did, so when I got home I looked it up online.

It was this song:

So I got all her albums, which at this point in time number three. Which is not bad for someone who’s 21.

And as luck would have it, she was playing a concert right here in Minneapolis within a few weeks, so I got tickets for that.

Now for some reason, since I got to do the Nellie McKay interview, I figured hey, lets try that again. Now with Nellie McKay, I basically asked her if I could do it, and she had me talk to her mom to set things up.

With Laura Marling, I talked to someone at the theatre she was playing at (The Cedar Cultural Center), who had me talk to someone else at The Cedar, who referred me to someone at the friggin William Morris agency which is only the biggest talent agency in the world. Or rather referred me to someone’s assistant. Who referred me to someone else’s assistant, who eventually referred me to Laura Marling’s publicist who never replied to my email.

So THAT didn’t happen. Which is too bad for them, really. Laura apparently forgot to bring a guitar strap with her, and apparently The Cedar doesn’t have any spares so she was using a strap from a handbag. I could’ve totally brought her one. But anyway.

Laura Marling’s music has been described as… yeah, indie. Indie-folk, in fact. Or “Nu-Folk”, whatever the hell that means. She’s gone on record saying that she doesn’t think she’s a folk musician. I have to agree. Just because it’s mostly acoustic and occasionally includes mandolins doesn’t make it Folk. It’s rock. Mostly acoustic rock, but seriously people.

Now clearly I hadn’t been listening to her music for that long, but it seemed to me that her latest album was a lot darker than the first one. I did do some research in case I do get to do an interview and apparently I’m not the only person who thinks that. Or rather thought that. I listened to all three of her albums several times and really, none of them are light and fluffy. The latest one is just a bit louder and has one song that’s very explicitly dark (and sadly seems to have much less of her real accent). Ironically it includes the track from that video up there which is one of the more folky tunes she has.

If you look at her album names and covers, though, there does seem to be a progression. Here are the covers for her first three albums (copyrights by whoever own them etc):

First album: Alas, I Cannot Swim

Second album: I Speak Because I Can

Third album: A Creature I Don’t Know.

That last one is one of those things where if your kid draws it in kindergarten they call you in to have a long talk with you about what the hell is going on at home.
Based on that, I took the liberty and designed the cover for Laura Marling’s 4th album:

(Yeah I know I can’t draw. And yeah I used a really expensive wacom tablet to do that. You do not want to know what that would’ve looked like if I had to use the trackpad, or even worse, real paper and crayons.)
Now I have to point out that, scary as this progression is, her music is still fantastic. Otherwise I don’t think I could’ve really listened to the albums long enough to pick up on all this.

So, on to the concert.

Quick note: the opening act was a group called The Bello Duo. As you have no doubt figured out from the name, they’re a couple of guys playing a banjo and a cello. They are definitely worth checking out.

Another quick note: The Cedar is a small, mostly volunteer-run organisation. This is cool but it’s absolutely no excuse for the fact that when you buy tickets and select will-call, they tell you to show up an hour in advance, even though it’s well below freezing outside, and they don’t actually open the doors until 5 minutes before the show starts. Also it doesn’t say a lot for them that the show times they gave out were wrong, whereas the show time published for this very show by a different venue were accurate. I know that makes no sense. Apparently the other venue co-sponsored this show or something and they had the times right.

I will say this, though. Last time we went to The Cedar we actually left during the opening act because the sound was just too loud and it was either leave or prey for a swift and painless death. This time it was perfect. Helps that the opening act was also acoustic. And wasn’t Liam “Ruptured Eardrums” Finn.

I knew Laura Marling was young. I mean I looked it up and I’ve clearly seen videos. But when she walked out on stage, she looked really young. I have got in trouble lately for referring to younger females as “girl” instead of “woman”, but I feel that I’m justified in doing that when someone is about half my age. So basically eventually this really nervous young girl comes up on stage and says, in a very nervous voice, that being up in front of a crowd like that is not her strong point.

Here’s the thing: I’m not sure how famous or well known Laura Marling is in her native England, but she’s definitely an up-and-comer/someone-to-watch kinda thing. Since 2008 she’s been nominated for a good number of awards, and has recently won some fairly big ones. She’s lately done a tour in the UK where she played at really big cathedrals (I’m not absolutely sure why she was slumming it at The Cedar, but I’m not complaining).

She also (as you can see in that video) usually plays with a fairly big band.

The Cedar is a very small venue. It’s one of those places where all the seats are folding chairs. The stage is really, REALLY close to the audience. I can see how that would be unnerving.

So she’s up there, nervously trying to chat with the audience while tuning up (there was a lot of tuning up at this show. I really should email the banjo guy from Bello Duo about putting locking tuners on his banjo), but then she started singing.

I have to say this about the show as a whole, and I know this seems like criticism but it’s really not. The show was not very professional. And I mean that in a good way. I got the feeling that this is how Laura Marling would perform if she was alone. There was none of the nervousness while she was performing. It’s just talking to people that’s apparently scary.

She definitely has a lot of talent. I’m not an expert so I don’t know the technical terms for all the vocal things she did, but I can tell you that she’s good at it. Really good at the whole guitar thing, too, even when it’s held up by a handbag strap.

Toward the end she said that she wasn’t “cool” or “rock’n’roll” enough to do encores, so she did let us know that would be the last song. Seeing as it was getting late and the seats at The Cedar are immensely uncomfortable, we decided to take her word for it.

Now I know I’ve been a bit rough on The Cedar, but it is really nice to be able to see really good live shows for like $14. I actually gave them more money because they WERE very nice and did help me try and get that interview.

Laura Marling is on tour right now, and if she’s playing anywhere near you, do go see her.

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