The Powerstation, Auckland
Friday, October 23
Laura Marling’s latest album, Short Movie, is fantastic – but you could be worried she didn’t think so, barely choosing from it to fill her first headlining gig in New Zealand. Instead, Marling chose a range of songs from her five albums to date, and a couple of covers. That she hasn’t made a bad album meant it didn’t really matter what she played. And in offering up the different versions of herself – the songs from when she was a teenager through to now (she’s 25) – it was less about being a “hits” set and more about showing the stylistic range, the emotional breadth and depth, the power and beauty and fragility of her song-crafting given she’s written off somewhat by being tag as any kind of ‘folk’ musician.
The opening suite of songs from her most emotionally direct album, Once I Was An Eagle, was spellbinding. Hypnotic, breath-taking, you could hear a pin drop. She has the voice of an angel and in the sympathetic backing of drummer Matt Ingram and bassist Nick Pini we had a rise and fall, a gentle swell beneath her deft fingerpicking. In fact it was extraordinary to me how good she was on the guitar; something I’d both always known and never (really) acknowledged. The voice – sure. I knew that was going to be something. The songs – of course. That was why I was there. But the playing, her playing, was mesmerising.
We got hints of the influences with a cover of Bert Jansch’s Courting Blue and a shoutout to Dolly Parton, as well as a smart rendition of Dolly’s Do I Ever Cross Your Mind? And then she excused her own primitive playing and worldview when revisiting the title track of her debut album, dismissing it as the thoughts and playing of a 17 year old. Staggering to think a) how much she’s done in just a few short years and b) even when being told by the artist of early embarrassments you still hear something that seemingly arrived fully formed, that feels more real than so many modern songwriters.
Sophia, Once and Rambling Man were the big finale numbers, but this wasn’t a big “show” type of gig. Often it was just Laura fingerpicking, the band – mostly – sat beneath, some bowed bass peeking through, a few rolling toms and cymbal crashes, like waves, to punctuate.
Marling was incredible to see and hear. She was funny too. The banter from both her and drummer Ingram was sharp and memorable. (Actually Pini was in on the action too, asking for To Do List suggestions for his day-off).
There was just enough charm – but it was the performance that was winning. There need be no bells nor whistles when the emotional clarity is so strong, when the songs stand proud, resonant, beautiful.
I love that she didn’t do the standard encore either. Just play the set – announce the last tune. And walk. Thank the audience. And mean it. Class.
An opening set by Tiny Ruins was, as I had figured beforehand, the perfect scene-setter. Just Hollie solo for most of it, some lovely songs – and again, that voice. A really wonderful gig, this. My first time at The Powerstation also. What a great venue. I’m jealous – Wellington has nothing to match it, and it’s unlikely we ever will. I return home having seen one of the best shows in a while in a great venue. Won’t get that lucky again anytime soon.