Four songs into Laura Marling’s June 26 set in Vancouver, the raspy-voiced alto said into her mic: “Stage banter has never been my forte, so please don’t think I’m being rude.” In fact, whether the shy but sarcastic 22-year-old from Hampshire, England, decided to speak or not that night, the audience could hardly find her at fault. The Commodore Ballroom was surprisingly barely half-full that night, and while Marling didn’t seem to mind (“You guys are really excited for a Wednesday night,” she said later. “I can’t imagine what you’re all like on a Saturday .”), it was disappointing to see that not more Vancouverites knew about a talented singer-songwriter who was three albums deep.
Sitting atop a stool center stage, dressed in a printed dress, her long blonde hair swept across one shoulder, her trusty acoustic guitar perched on her lap, Marling kicked off the night with “Rambling Man” from her 2010 release, I Speak Because I Can. Part Joni Mitchell, part Stevie Nicks, Marling’s quiet but mesmerizing voice looped high and low through the strum of her guitar, with a slight country lilt at times. Moving right into “Blackberry Stone” off the same album, the performance featured a beautifully haunting cello counterpoint before picking up for “Alas I Cannot Swim,” which was given a decidedly bluegrass touch. The title song of Marling’s 2008 debut was guided by the plucky sound of an upright bass, giving the song more of a swingy, upbeat feel, as opposed to the stripped down version on the record.
After telling the audience how bad she was at talking to an audience (although her awkward, dry British humor seemed to work in her favor whenever she paused to speak), Marling leapt into two songs off her latest release, A Creature I Don’t Know, which came out in fall 2011. She started with the more subdued “Rest in the Bed” before picking up the mood with the bluesy Bob Dylan-esque “The Muse”, ending with a full-out jam session with her four-piece band. She ended the first portion of her set with the dark, story-centered “Hope in the Air”, which sounded heavily influenced by the songwriting styles of Neil Young and Johnny Cash, especially in Marling’s wry delivery.
After her band cleared the stage, Marling started a five-song acoustic set on her own, including the lullaby “Night After Night” a cover of Ryan Adams’ “Winding Wheel”. and “Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)”. Once her band finally returned on stage, she took the chance to introduce her quartet by asking each of them to tell the audience an interesting fact (about Vancouver), each of them telling one that was stranger than the last. When they finally launched into “Don’t Ask Me Why”, Marling experienced some bad monitor feedback midway through the song. While she appeared slightly stunned when it happened, she finished the song strong, as you would expect anyone who’s been performing in front of large crowds since her teen years.
Announcing that she didn’t do encores (“If you were expecting an encore, this is the last song, and if you weren’t, this is the second-to-last song,” Marling said matter-of-factly), she finished her set with “Salinas” and “I Speak Because I Can”. To say that Marling is wise beyond her years would be an understatement. The baby-faced young woman writes songs that require most people much more life experience, and what’s more is that she performs these songs with such integrity and heartache. For those who missed her Vancouver show, Marling should be on your radar. She’s one of those artists that’ll be writing and singing for a long time. You can just tell.