At long last I finally got my chance to see Laura Marling perform live, I missed out on tickets when she performed at the Cathedral some years back so I was excited when I saw the announcement for this Norwich date and made sure I was ready at the computer screen the morning the tickets went on sale. Good thing too as they all sold out within a few hours.
The previous night saw another sell-out gig at The Waterfront for the visit of Stiff Little Fingers and Theatre of Hate, this was an altogether different vibe and a long queue was already stretching onto King Street when I arrived shortly after half seven. The audience was quite a mix and all the best vantage points had already been taken up such was the sense of anticipation, excitement and occasion. With no support act Laura Marling stepped onto the sparse stage promptly at 8:30pm to a very warm and welcoming round of applause and opened Wild Fire, one of my stand out tracks from the stunning new album Semper Femina. Laura has such presence , the clarity of her words and *that* voice. It was obvious we were all party to something very special indeed and this was reflected in the prolonged and appreciative applause, which seemed to visibly move Laura. She herself was warm, natural and witty between songs, concerned about our welfare in the extraordinary heat of the Waterfront as her coping technique when people passed out in Exeter was to “play louder!” Surprising herself by slipping into an Irish accent and then complimenting the fine city … “Norwich is nice. Really, very sweet. Well done!” Already fans of her music the entire room was rather falling in love with her personal charm too.
For the most part though Laura Marling just let her songs do the talking, and do they speak! A bare stage, no flashing lights it was just Laura and her guitar and this is how I have always most wished to experience her live show, so this did in fact feel quite a privilege. She held the audience, seemingly effortlessly, utterly transfixed with the power of her voice, words and playing, captivating us for the duration of the set. Other than a minor stumble on a line in a cover of Kathy’s Song – shrugged of with a smile from her and the audience – she was absolutely flawless, a sublime performace. The love for her was palpable and I have never seen the Waterfront quite like this, so quiet and respectful during the songs but with extended applause after each of them. There’s a style of personal narrative delivery on a few songs , such as Wild Fire, that was also used by Lou Reed and is highly effective. All the way through the set she commanded total attention, it was amazing stuff.
A set with many highlights, including Goodbye England and closing with Rambling Man, then she was gone. No encore but it just felt right to stop there, she knew it and we knew it, there was nothing else to give and no more needed. We all felt grateful for the performance in a very special gig indeed. In a surprisingly intimate Waterfront too though because of its poor sightlines in places, if I could have changed just one thing it would have been for it to be at Norwich Arts Centre as I felt I barely actually saw Laura at all! On this occasion that didn’t matter too much, she reached and touched everyone in every part of the room … it was an honor to be there. On record these songs are superb but performed live in this pared down format was utterly amazing.
No support, no light show, no encore, this was all about the songs in their barest form, it felt all the more special for that. I knew without a doubt we had just witnessed an absolute star give us her heart in her music, a magical shared experience.