Concert review: Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know

VIENNA, Va., June 18, 2012 –Whether you’re listening to her during her live performance or just encountering her music in general, the first thing you’re likely to notice about Laura Marling is probably the one thing she would like to avoid at this point in her career. At 22 years of age, she is already a seasoned veteran of the pop music scene, having first been signed to a major label at the age of 18.

Even after four years and three full length albums, the shawl of youth is still wrapped around her tightly. Being young in an industry that’s known for pushing progressively younger artists into the spotlight can have both positive and a negative results from a variety of angles.

That said, Laura Marling seems, at least at this moment, to be experiencing the best of both worlds. Her headlining show at the 9:30 Club brought to the forefront most of what she stands for as a musician, while at the same time revealing her as a still growing  and developing artist.

Marling’s last album, A Creature I Don’t Know, showed her maturing as an artist and continuing to build a fuller sound while gradually moving away from the basic set up that’s common to the acoustic singer/songwriter. During her recent set at 9:30, she opened up on stage with a full band on stage, initially shying away from giving the impression that it was just between she and the audience. That attitude would change though as the evening progressed.

Experiencing some of her early songs accompanied by a full band gives those songs a different dimension from their more modestly recorded counterparts. It’s a clear indication that Laura Marling is trying to expand her horizons, consciously choosing not to create the same sound and play off the same emotional resonance that she’s employed up to this point in her career. Her songs possess common or similar lyrical threads throughout her range. But working with a bigger band changes the performance dynamic, sometimes dramatically, when it’s not simply she and a guitar playing on stage.

Marling has gained a lot of positive critical attention in the last four years. She seems to be making a clear attempt at moving past the original audience expectations that have made her a popular performing artist to this point. In performance, her obvious ambition comes off as defiant, as only a young musician can convincingly project. There’s a certain edge to her songs now.  Her singing, especially, during the opening moments of her show, comes across as if she is literally challenging the audience with her current, fuller set up. There are times when this approach comes off unevenly. But, over all, it gives her set an honest, straightforward approach that might otherwise seem absent.

Despite her attempt to shed the earlier manifestations of her career, the strongest moments of her set are when she chooses to appear on stage by herself. These are the moments when she seems less worried about preconceptions and just relaxes into her music. It allows her to be more intimate with the audience, as the emotion of her singing is able to come out in its full force.

Still, whether backed by a band or up close and personal, there aren’t any moments of pretention during her set. Even as Marling attempts to stake out new ground as an artist, she never makes a move to hide her evolutionary struggles. So while she hasn’t quite realized her full potential as a forward-thinking musician, that doesn’t mean she’s afraid to keep on pushing herself until she can fully achieve her objective. 

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener. Read more of his work in Riffs at the Washington Times Communities.


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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