Laura Marling – Brooklyn Steel – May 20, 2017
World-weary is a strange way to describe someone so young. But at just 27, Laura Marling seems to wear that term like a badge. With six full-length albums under her belt since 2008, the U.K. singer-songwriter has amassed a large catalog of intense folk songs that position her against the universe and brim with quiet contemplative ferocity. Oh yeah, otherworldly is also a great way to describe Marling. Her fantastic new album, Semper Femina, only further proves this, and on Saturday night, Brooklyn Steel was packed with fans eager to check out the new material live. L.A. four-piece Valley Queen, who blew away the crowd with a tight set of lean rock with a clear emphasis on hooks and ripping guitar gymnastics, opened the show. At times, Natalie Carol’s vocals and Shawn Morones’s guitar interplay reached the level of vintage Rilo Kiley, and her powerhouse voice took no prisoners as it burst through the stratosphere. Do yourself a favor and see these guys next time they roll through town. They definitely won’t be opening shows like this for very long.
Before Laura Marling took the stage, the house blared Leonard Cohen’s early work through the PA. It almost felt like a locker-room pep talk sung from the beyond. Each of the three microphone stands, for Marling and her two backup singers, were dressed with bouquets of flowers, and even the drum hardware was covered in enough vegetation to resemble a fire-escape garden. It was safe to assume that this would be an intimate affair. Marling and her band owed much of the night to Femina, playing eight of the album’s nine tracks, only omitting “Nouel.” They sounded fantastic on the new material and gave apt attention to the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink compositions by producer Blake Mills. But the real spellbinder of the night, of course, was Marling, and the show went from simply being special to “Oh, my God, are you seeing this?” when she treated the crowd to a number of songs accompanied by just a guitar. Her intricate fingerpicking and angelic voice mesmerized on older tunes like “Goodbye England (Covered in Snow),” and she threw in a jaw-dropping surprise cover of the Townes Van Zandt classic “For the Sake of the Song.”
The band returned to play a few more numbers and reworked the Once I Was an Eagle standout “Once” into an AM country ballad with spot-on three-part harmonies that got the biggest applause of the night. After the crowd settled down, Marling had to break the bad news: The show was coming to an end. “If you wanted an encore,” she said with a laugh, “then think of that last song … as the last song.” Choosing not to leave and comeback for more, Marling and her band ended the night with a rousing rendition of “Rambling Man,” off of her breakthrough album, I Speak Because I Can, leaving the crowd wanting more. —Patrick King | @MrPatKing