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Laura Marling @ The Pabst Theater

Aug. 15, 2013

Aug. 16, 2013
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laura marling
Photo credit: Melissa Miller
The widespread acclaim bestowed on Laura Marling at such an early age seems warranted. Moving from the English countryside to London at 16 years old to pursue a life of music would have been a gigantic bust if her songs weren’t actually, you know, good. But they were, effectively earning her the label of teenage prodigy. Now 23 and four albums deep into her catalog, Marling has reached a crossroads. Can she evolve past the image of a precocious teenager and position herself next to folk music greats, or will she forever be remembered as the plaintive country girl with bushels of wilted promise? Judging by her latest record, Once I Was an Eagle, she’s already accomplished the former challenge. But, as her show Thursday night at the Pabst Theater brought to light, she still has some work to do with her live performance—where folk reputation lies—to be considered a star.

Things got off to a rocky start. “I’m going to start with some banter, which in the past hasn’t been my forte,” she self deprecatingly began. Her current tour hinges on simplicity, but sometimes that simplicity can work against an artist. She appeared onstage alone, with only two acoustic guitars by her side. When she told the crowd she had broken her tuner, they gasped. Was the night’s serenity ruined? Marling assured otherwise, that the calamity wouldn’t bring down her set, but the broken tuner turned from a minor inconvenience to a larger problem once it became evident that she changed tuning after every song. Her material from Once I Was an Eagle mostly flows seamlessly into each other—especially the first four tracks, which began the show—so the jarring breaks between those came close to hijacking the show.

Marling performed her best when she was actually, well, performing. Her husky yet gentile voice transfixed the crowd. Her music could whisk away any awkwardness the extended lulls brought on. Highpoints included the gently strummed and preciously sung “Rambling Man” and the militant bounce of “Master Hunter.”

But even the performing became cumbersome at times. Her focus certainly waned as the night wore on. She forgot the words to “Goodbye England (Covered in Snow),” she blanked on (or plainly decided she didn’t want to play) a Neil Young cover after a few bars, and an inexplicable laugh from the audience during the opening lines to “What He Wrote” gave her pause and ultimately caused her to start the song over. “I bet you’re just blown away by how professional I am,” she smirked near night’s end. Her devil-may-care attitude toward the flubs kept morale high and may have been the saving grace to the downright train wreck of a performance. She may be putting out more mature material than musicians twice her age, but she still has years to grow on stage.


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