Live Review: Laura Marling/Mumford & Sons/Lowly Knights at The Open House Festival – Part 2
The clock has just struck 11, and needless to say the crowd are starting to get slightly restless, especially after Mumford & Son’s brainstorming performance. People have left the standing area, preferring to mill around the bar, and there’s sporadic cries of ‘Laura!’
Finally, the lights dim, and Laura Marling wanders onstage, her blonde-hair clipped away from her face, and teetering slightly inside her heels. She picks up a guitar and (to rapturous reactions) launches into ‘Ghosts’. She seems visibly more confident than reported, even cheekily pausing after the opening chords to savour the crowd’s cheers.
Her performance is pitch-perfect and Marcus Mumford’s frenzied drumming turns the rendition into something more urgent and insistent than the languorous original.
Next song is the despondent waltz of ‘My Manic & I’; again Laura handles the song perfectly, even allowing herself a shy smile.
After this succession of successes, she approaches the microphone and tells the crowd she’s going to be performing some new tracks. The crowd murmurs hungrily as she begins playing b-side to ‘Cross Your Fingers’, ‘Blackberry Stone’ – which is one of my personal favourites – for me, it’s a sign of a growing, melodic maturity in Laura’s song writing, recalling Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy at his most lilting. Somehow, the live version didn’t quite match or surpass the recorded version – Laura’s gentling flowing harmonies seemed to trickle underwhelming into the ether, and during the performance, a string snaps, and the song is cut short, mid-harmony. A stage hand runs worriedly over to her, and begins fixing the guitar. Laura looks slightly overwhelmed, but steps up to the microphone.
‘I used to pride myself in having never having broken a string.’ She says, then pausing, as though for comedic effect. ‘But I’m just so rock-and-roll these days..’ The crowd titter appreciatively; Laura looks endearingly proud of her quip. Then, a silence.
‘I haven’t quite mastered stage banter yet’ she admits, sheepishly, shrugging her shoulders nervously inside her white floaty top.
(An encouraging grin from Marcus Mumford on the drums.)
‘So… anyone know any good jokes?’
Soon the guitar is fixed; Laura’s sigh of relief is almost visible, and she launches, with gusto, into ‘No Hope in the Air’. Out of all of Laura’s new material, this is the song which had the most impact on me – her anguished cries of ‘Why fear death? Be scared of living!’ remind me somehow of the excellent (and unnerving) Austrian songstress Soap&Skin, if Soap&Skin traded in her piano for a guitar. But other new track ‘Rambling Man’ floats straight through my ears; this late in the night, it’s Bronte-esque laments seem slightly weary, and Laura seems unnerved by her string breaking; her eyes fixed steadfastly on her boots. Sadly, it seems the incident happened too late in the set to give Laura time to gain her composure; she plays the beautifully swooping ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’ closer, ‘Dora’, and then announces her last song, to a collective moan. The band looks slightly bewildered, but begin the rip-roaring hidden track, ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’. On this track, her band truly shine, displaying their incredible versatility; first they play softly, their fingers barely moving, moulding the contours of Laura’s lilting voice, then summoning up a storm of music, a hoedown of truly epic proportions – and, after the strummed depression of Laura’s newer tracks, it’s all glorious, golden fun. As Laura shouts joyfully over the din: ‘Gold is fleeting, gold is fickle, gold is… fun!’, she laughs, glancing at Marcus, and after her confidence was somewhat dented by the technical problem, it’s wonderful to see; the crowd laugh delightedly, doggedly along with her, and it’s apparent that this particular concert has been a storm we’ve weathered out together.
It’s on this dizzying high note that the band exit the stage; a good 70% of the crowd wait behind, hopelessly calling out ‘Encore!’ but it’s clear that, for tonight at least, Laura’s had quite enough.