Live Review: Laura Marling with Marika Hackman and Johnny Flynn at 9:30 Club, Washington, DC – 31st July 2015

By on Monday, 3rd August 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

Laura Marling made big waves back in the spring when she released her fifth album ‘Short Movie’, which was recorded out in Los Angeles when the otherwise normally London-based singer/songwriter made a temporary escape to America. Despite her young age – she’s only 25, though with a back catalogue like hers to be proud of, she seems so much older – her music has already undergone significant change from her earliest appearances as a backing vocalist on Noah and the Whale‘s debut album ‘Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down’ and her first solo album released in 2008, ‘Alas, I Cannot Swim’. With ‘Short Movie’, her music seems even more honest than before, and she’s also chosen a harder edge that she’d only begun to explore in the 2013 Mercury Prize-nominated ‘Once I Was an Eagle’. Keeping in mind this evolution in style, it became apparent after talking with fans in the queue outside the 9:30 that the “new” Laura Marling had mixed reviews. Having not seen perform since 2011, I was keen on seeing how her live performance had changed in 4 years.

Marika Hackman live at 9:30 Club, Washington 2015 2

Along for the ride with Marling on this North American campaign are her musical friends Marika Hackman and Johnny Flynn, the former describing in a chat with me before the show that their friendship has made this journey out to our continent fun and stress-free. Hackman was up first Friday night and although she’s not well known in America – yet – the general consensus with those I spoke to after her set was overwhelming positive. Wearing what she described as her pajamas because she hadn’t packed well for the oppressiveness of American summer (the high for DC on Friday was 92 F, or 33 C), she apologised for wearing a t-shirt and mens’ boxer shorts, while also telling all the young girls in the audience she should take her lead and make the fashion trend stick. Her stage banter was funny and disarming, a theme that was repeated in both Flynn and Marling’s own sets.

Marika Hackman at 9:30 Club, Washington 2015 1

However, when it came down to the actual performance, Hackman’s fragile, emotional voice and adept acoustic guitar playing went down a treat. She released her debut album ‘We Slept at Last’ on Dirty Hit Records back in February, and the beauty of songs being sung and played with such sensitivity, which included early LP single ‘Drown’ and my personal favourite ‘Ophelia’ reverberated through the club. Her cover of American Joanna Newsom’s ’81’, which features on her ‘Sugar Blind’ EP released in 2013, was equally gorgeous. For ‘Animal Fear’, Marling’s bass player and drummer came onstage to accompany Hackman, the resulting sound and rhythm getting punters’ head bopping. It’s not too hard to imagine this talented singer/songwriter gracing this stage as a headliner sometime soon. For more on Marika Hackman on TGTF, go here.

Singer/songwriter and now also actor Johnny Flynn was next, and judging from the screaming and squealing from the girls and women in the crowd, security placed a barrier at the front to deter his devoted fans from scrambling onstage. While Flynn’s deep voice live surprised me, there wasn’t a whole lot about his set that grabbed at me. Also, his voice got drowned out by those around me who were singing along loudly (more power to you, I guess, but it was really distracting). A duet with Laura Marling on ‘The Water’ was recreated live, much to the delight of the punters. Having several albums to his name, he smartly took a trip through his back catalogue, including standouts ‘Brown Trout Blues’ from 2008 and the title track of 2010’s ‘Been Listening’. He ended his set on a high note, enlisting the help of Marling’s backing band and both the voices and hand percussion talents of Marling and Hackman on ‘Tickle Me Pink’. Needless to say, his foaming at the mouth fans would have preferred for him to have played longer. For more on Johnny Flynn on TGTF, go here.

Laura Marling and Johnny Flynn duetting at 9:30 Club, Washington 2015 1

Then it was time for the main event. I still have trouble getting over her short-cropped haircut (I asked myself when I saw her at SXSW 2015, “where are her long blonde locks?”) and while I realise it’s been a long time since I saw her play in 2010 in the very intimate Iota, it’s still jarring to me that she’s all grown up. Marling was always mature for her age, and on ‘Short Movie’, it sounds like she’s sharpened her resolve to be her own person and to write and sing about what she wants, and with the emotions on full display. I find it hard to listen to Marling’s more recent work, and this proved also true when I was faced with her live Friday night.

Laura Marling at 9:30 Club, Washington 2015 1

This is not criticism of her talent, of which we all know Laura has loads of; it’s more a commentary of the rough-edged, straightforward and therefore often strident way her music comes across these days. There’s no more contrast you could have than Marling performing the relationship-weary ‘I Was an Eagle’ from her 2013 album alongside the sweetness and naivete of ‘Alas, I Cannot Swim’. The evolution of Marling’s music includes bluesy bents evident in ‘Walk Alone’ and discarded ‘Short Movie’ track ‘Daisy’, the latter of which has the fantastic line “a woman alone is not a woman undone”. Like Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell before her, Marling is forging her own way in this world, and there needs to be more artists like her who aren’t afraid of being honest.

Laura Marling at 9:30 Club, Washington 2015 2

After the cut: Laura Marling’s set list. To read more on Marling on TGTF, go here.

Laura Marling Set List:
Take the Night Off
I Was an Eagle
You Know
Breathe
David
Howl
Walk Alone
Master Hunter
Love Be Brave
Do I Ever Cross Your Mind (Dolly Parton cover)
Alas I Cannot Swim
Failure
Daisy
What He Wrote
I Feel Your Love
Tired of You (Foo Fighters cover with Marika Hackman)
How Can I
Sophia
I Speak Because I Can
Rambling Man
//
Dirty Work (Steely Dan cover with Johnny Flynn)

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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