Laura Marling, Royal Albert Hall, London

4.00

 

“We don’t do encores... If you want an encore then this is the last song, if you don’t, this is the second to last.” At a time when encores at gigs have become almost mandatory, and therefore meaningless, Laura Marling’s approach to them is refreshingly unconventional.

Ironically, it’s tonight, a one-off performance at the Royal Albert Hall that’s the culmination of an extensive tour of the states, when she fully deserves cries for an encore. But in its place the audience offers a standing ovation. The gig is billed as a night of songs from A Creature I Don't Know, Marling’s third and most recent album, but there are two completely new songs and a peppering of older hits in the mix too.

“The Beast” is dark, pulsing and uncomfortable, while “Night After Night”, performed solo, is haunting, with a Cohen-esque quality. As she growls, “I sold you my hand once and you hit me in fear/ I don’t stand for the devil, I don’t whisper in ears,” Marling leans her head back, parallel with the high ceiling, as though possessed. At other moments she speaks the lines quickly and without ceremony, like a newsreader with irregular emphasis. Another wonderful thing is you can hear every word. Sometimes it’s husky, sometimes it’s light but it’s always clear, bright and confident.   

Marling and her band occupy a tiny, intimate, circular stage where she rotates between four mics - so her back is to the audience one quarter of the time. She takes a back seat while the band shares some trivia in honour of their last night together - we learn the organ in the Royal Albert Hall is the second biggest in the UK and it’s the first place outside of Japan to host a Sumo wrestling match, and that Nick, on double bass, is having an exceptionally big hair day.

The mics point, Liam Gallagher-like, closer to Marling’s nose than her mouth, so she has to go on tip-toes to reach. After nearly every song, Marling swaps guitars and re-tunes, even though it (annoyingly) breaks the pace of the evening. As Marling admits she’s “terrified” by the setting, you might be surprised by her confident performance, it’s at odds with her protestations of shyness (“I can feel my parents quaking - “say something!”” she says, remarking on her lack of banter).

Her Nike trainers hint at her inner confidence, a rebellious oddity set against the grand venue and the band’s formal dresses and waistcoats.

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