Thursday, 29 April 2010

Dinotour: Laura Marling - Southampton Guildhall - 23.04.10

'Alessi's Ark' playing with the cast of Watership Down out of shot to the right.

I think it's time for a bit of honesty, isn't it? For a long time now, I've always believed that self reflection is crucial if you are ever going to develop as a person. Naturally, I try to apply the same thinking to this blog because this little experiment needs to develop too. From my last count, I'd say there are various criticisms you could level at this blog. Firstly, I am probably overly critical of people at times. Y'know people who have worked hard to get where they are today only for an army of keyboard warriors such as myself to shoot them down for such trivial reasons. I apologise unreservedly Ms Joss Stone, you are talented and I will never do it again* A more pertinent criticism, however, would revolve around the length of time it takes me to post sometimes. I highly doubt whether I have any regular readers but man, you could watch the sands of time change over and over, finger jammed on F5, before you'd see a new post sent direct from H.M.S my little head. Case in point being this Laura Marling show I saw on the 23rd of April. Yes, April. The month of fools and showers, eggs and resurrection.

Before I fully start though, could I just divert your attention to the Southern Daily Echo's review of the same gig (from whence the above photo is from clearly, you all know what I'm like with cameras). This was posted on the Monday after and I think might validate my point about not publishing posts straight after seeing things - they can read pretty poorly you see. A "soft yet powerful songstress" ohhh err missus.

First thing I'd have to mention would be the layout of the Southampton Guildhall. Why? Well, it was completely bizarre, that's why. It's a spacious high vaulted old place and for this night, for some reason or another, the venue had decided on all seating. This meant a floor consisting of rows and rows of neatly aligned temporary chairs. I remarked at the time that the whole thing looked like a 'Battle of the Bands' night at a private school and I stand by that. In a venue that looks a bit empty even when it's full, the organizers were trying their hardest to install a vaccuum here. Couple the whole seating fiasco with the average age of the audience (16.4 years at a guess) and feelings of being back at school were hitting both regularly and strongly. See pictorial evidence below.

I mean, seriously? Imagine Hendrix burning his Strat onstage with the crowd watching on in seats like these. Wouldn't happen.

Unbeknown to me because I usually don't think about concerts until about 5pm of the day they are actually on, there were a couple of support acts due before the main event. Here's a brief summary:

Boy & Bear

Described by reviewer extraordinare Corey Stephenson at the Southern Daily Echo as "Aussie folksters". Described by me at MMD as "Fleet Foxes for Mumford & Sons fans who have never heard The Grateful Dead". They were okay although I got the feeling that they sounded completely different ohIdon'tknow about 2 years ago until they heard that Sun King EP and one of 'em popped his head up and said "G'day guys. Any of ya wanna go halves on a blaady banjo wi' us?" and history, as they say, was written. Boy & Bear covered 'Flume' by Bon Iver during their set. This made me feel very old because I'm pretty sure when I first started going to gigs around the time of the War of the Roses people use to only ever cover songs that pre dated me by an awfully long time whereas this song came out last week or something. Bon Iver irritates me to the point of scratching generally anyway so yeah, the bear ate the boy and all ends out, they didn't really get on that well.

Alessi's Ark

Consisted of a guy and a deliberately quirky girl who, to be fair to her, had quite a nice little voice. Her onstage 'character' was pretty painful though, I mean that. All shy country girl forced into the spotlight when she'd really rather be lost away in the meadow making daisy chains and playing with squirrels and all that. A cursory check of respected online academic resource Wikipedia actually confirms that she's from 'Hammersmith' in picturesque 'West London'. She kept saying things like "Thanks....I love you...I think we should all be friends. Forever and ever," to the crowd whilst acting all cutesy, it got pretty annoying. She did have one song that included the line "I must have roots in my boots.." which I, and I don't really know why, really liked. Sound style and everything else wise you can thank the usual tired suspects. Think Kate Bush *yawn*, Jenny Lewis *nytol* and Kate Naszzzzzzzzzz.

Laura Marling then. As I've mentioned before, I'm new to her. I've a friend that has been a big fan for a long time. All the way back when she was 16! Can you believe it?! Sweet sixteen! That's, ohh, four years ago now ffs. It was with this last release 'I Speak Because I Can' that I really gave her a chance and that record is a really strong one. Mainly for three reasons - 'Rambling Man', 'Blackberry Stone' and 'Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)'. Three stunning songs placed smack in the middle of this record that leave you thinking all manner of great things about Laura Marling post listening. Three songs of such beauty and quality that all you can say in response to them is "you don't hear songs like that too often".

The lighting team did really well with Marling. Mainly using a row of about ten circular globes at various heights they managed to create some semblance of mood that largely deflected your attention away from a ridiculous seating plan and a room that you can mainly imagine people using for trampoling or graduations. 'Rambling Man' was well measured and the use of spotlights for the passionately delivered chorus that I always imagine to be sang through gritted teeth worked really well. A few songs were illuminated by the bands massive shadows cast onto a white backdrop which also looked pretty cool. Not really sure why Laura Marling and guitar as a shadow look like the minotaur though. (Man, Meet Minotaur blog idea everyone! Who knows about Greek classics? anyone?)

Marling was in fine voice and my well educated friend informs me that has always been the case. Her voice is very powerful when it wants to be and being as I am (i.e. incredibly judgemental and thinking I know everything) I wasn't sure whether she'd be able to carry certain songs live or not but 'Devil's Spoke' lost none of its combative message nor did 'Alpha Swallows' sound any less resigned than it does on record. I'm far more aware of 'I Speak Because I Can' than anything else so a lot of her older material was a little lost on me aside from 'Ghosts' which is a pretty little song that is just waiting to be cast in a Brit rom-com of some sort or another.

Laura Marling is still very young and on occasions I think that shows, in both good and bad ways. I got the feeling that she felt she had to engage the crowd between songs which isn't really the case and occasionally led to her walking up different blind avenues and I also wouldn't advocate anyone to cover Neil Young's 'The Needle and The Damage Done' as it's just very very difficult to pull off. In fact, I don't even think Neil Young could play that convincingly now. That said, you've also got to admire her for trying. Marling's (yeah we're on surname terms) a really likeable girl and this was an entertaining show which my old mate Corey Stephenson felt the need to describe as a night of "folk blended acoustic magic." Give me strength.

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