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Laura Marling at Royal Festival Hall Review

Laura Marling @ the Barfly

What strikes you first is Laura Marling's newfound authority. The shy, fragile-looking teenager who, two years ago, seemed to be singing half to herself has been replaced by a woman in total command of her material – looking her audience squarely in the eye and performing with a relaxed, dynamic confidence. Little shakes her, whether the heat in the Barfly that causes a couple of audience members to faint, or her own abrupt ending to Failure, when she suddenly realises that she is making up new lyrics. "You get the gist, anyway," she laughs. Marling relies neither on the faux-quirkiness nor the vocal affectations of some of her peers, and the spare simplicity of her arrangements belies her remarkable versatility. At times, she takes on a conversational tone, recounting details as though sharing gossip with the audience; at others, such as on Devil's Spoke, she repeats mantras with an incantatory power. There are echoes of PJ Harvey in the way she sinks her teeth into her songs. And just as on record, both mythic imagery and discomfitingly direct observations seem to come naturally to Marling live: she addresses Hera and sings in character as a resentful Penelope, then turns around and delivers a lyric as unflinching as, "You'll work your thumbs 'til they're sore/ And you'll work my heart until it's raw." Marling is a formidable songwriter who, as her new album I Speak Because I Can demonstrates, is only getting better; and the acuity of her observations is matched by the precision of her performance. On My Manic and I and Night Terror, she achieves the unthinkable in the sardine-packed Barfly: for three hushed minutes, Marling makes you feel as though, in line with the songs' narratives, you are completely alone. Alex Macpherson

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