With her microphone stand intentionally poised too high, Laura Marling spent all of Wednesday night’s solo-acoustic concert at the Woman’s Club Theater looking skyward toward the stage lights. It was probably just her way of focusing intensely on the music (avoiding visual distractions as she sang), but it underlined her aloof style, as well as the hold-your-head-up themes of her songs.
“You put them all together, and you might get the impression I’m not really keen on men,” the perennially buzzing, 23-year-old British folkie quipped of her lyrics to the sold-out crowd. That’s after she sang the bleak, identity-seeking ballad “Rambling Man” and then delivered these opening lines of “I Speak Because I Can”: “My husband left me last night / Left me a poor and lonely wife.”
Although her set didn’t even clock in at an hour, Marling made quite a lasting impression at her biggest local gig yet (her first was still in her teens at the 400 Bar in 2008 with Mumford & Sons opening). She’s powerful even at her most delicate-sounding moments. Her songs proved to be far more than just woman-scorned material, too, and her singing style merited more than just the obvious Joni Mitchell comparisons -- which certainly are apt, though, even down to her fluid guitar playing.
There was a daydreamy, Nick Drake-like quality to “Sophia,” and a sweeping, “Visions of Johanna”-like scope in the opening montage of her songs “Take the Night Off,” “I Was an Eagle” and “You Know,” all blended together seamlessly as one long, breathtaking epic -- emphasis on “long.”
“You really were kind to sit through a 16-minute opening song,” she said afterward.
Between that initial marathon, her often funny stories (including one about buying a box of “Great American Rocks” at the Science Museum of Minnesota gift shop earlier in the day), and her between-song guitar tuning (she explained how she prefers traveling alone than with a roadie), fans could’ve felt short-shrifted by the brevity of the set list. She warned the audience after “Once” that she doesn’t believe in encores: “If you do want one, then that was the last song,” she said, before launching into the actual last song, “Saved These Words.”
Alas, she also ate up some of the time with a Simon & Garfunkel cover, “Kathy’s Song,” which will be lovely once she masters it and remembers the lyrics. The fact that she admitted to writing them down on her wrist was just one of many instances where Marling used her open-book charm to her advantage. Here’s the full set list:
Take the Night Off – I Was an Eagle – You Know / Master Hunter / ?? / Rambling Man / I Speak Because I Can / Kathy’s Song (S&G cover) / What He Wrote / Sophia / Once / Saved These Words
Minneapolis’s banjo experimentalist Paul Metzger was a daring choice for an opener at a folkie show, but he went over surprisingly well. His expansive instrumentals reverberated warmly through the intimate theater. Marling seemed to enjoy him, too, describing him as “otherworldly” when she thanked him in her set.