Scenes From Last Night's Pristine Laura Marling Show at the Kessler Theater.
Laura Marling doesn't cut the most imposing figure. Standing alone on stage just before her set begins, she seems vulnerable, susceptible to the whims of the evening and her audience.
Then she starts to sing and exposes just how foolish that impression is. Throughout her 75-minute performance at a sold-out Kessler Theater last night, there was never any doubt who was in control.
Following a tone-setting opening turn from fellow singer-songwriter Willy Mason, Marling, standing on her toes as she would for most of the night, opened her set with “Take the Night Off,” the first track from her Mercury Prize-nominated May album, Once I Was an Eagle. It's a moody, world-weary song, and it enraptured the reverent Kessler crowd — that is, until Marling stopped it about two-thirds of the way through to deal with an out-of-tune guitar.
For a lot of artists, the hiccup might have been the beginning of a meltdown, but Marling handled it with grace. Bantering about how she was “ever the professional,” she re-tuned the instrument and jumped back in right where she left off.
It was the only thing all night that would even approach a misstep, and it was more charming than anything.
Marling followed “Take the Night Off” with the rest of the four-song suite that that leads Once I Was an Eagle: “I Was an Eagle,” “You Know” and “Breathe.” The songs are seamless on the record, and Marling performs them the same way. It's a difficult way to start a show, maybe, but besides the aforementioned guitar issue, Marling pulled it off flawlessly.
The rest of the set was highlighted by Marling's performance of a pair of new songs and a stirring cover of Townes Van Zandt's “For the Sake of the Song.” For the new songs, Marling picked up — and acquitted herself quite nicely on — an electric guitar. It was an intriguing, if subtle, departure from the rest of her material, and portends well for her next album.
Marling's Van Zandt cover, it should be noted, was simply spellbinding. The outstanding source material, combined with the precision and clarity of her voice, proved to be potent mix — so much so that, after the next song, the equally well-performed “Where Can I Go,” when Marling announced that there wouldn't be an encore because she simply doesn't do them, the crowd seemed perfectly content with what it had already seen.
It was an impressive show, one that was made all the better by its setting. The Kessler's listening room environment is absolutely perfect for nuanced acts like Marling, whose material rewards careful listening. Marling noticed, too, commenting twice about the “nice vibe” in the room.
She, and her crowd, couldn't help but feel it all night.