Friday, June 15, 2012
Berklee Performance Center, Boston, MA
*I took more than a month break from concerts this summer, but have quite recently seen six shows in nine days—three of them all-day outdoor festivals. I have a lot to tell you about and will post about those shows very shortly. But one last post to catch up on first. I want to say a special thank you to Chris Van Slyke for allowing me to share a few of his pictures from Laura Marling’s show with you. My memory card with my pictures from the show was ruined and when I emailed him (even though I was a stranger) to see if I could use his photos, he was completely willing. Check out his awesome music blog, Boston Through My Eyes. It’s a very small world, because I ended up meeting Chris at the Newport Folk Festival and we got to catch up again last weekend at the Mumford & Sons Gentlemen of the Road Stopover in Portland, Maine.*
Thanks to the mild winter (I’d happily give it back if the polar bears could somehow get their melted ice caps back), our school year ended earlier than any I can remember. We wrapped with a staff day on a Wednesday, and I treated myself to a third row seat at Berklee’s lovely performing arts center to see Laura Marling that Friday night. My concert friend Bob (we met at an Iron & Wine show) who knows how much I like Mumford & Sons introduced me to Laura Marling. Both British, they’ve toured and made music together. Laura’s music is firmly folk, which is right up my alley. If you hear her voice, you’ll never forget it. She has a distinctive sound like Joni Mitchell or Emmylou Harris does—each one unmistakably unique. Laura’s voice is mature, too, and you’d probably never guess that her voice and those songs could come from a 22 year old, but they do. Check out NPR’s Laura Marling coverage to listen for yourself.
I got to Boston just in time to park and grab my awesome seat up front. Raised on Martha’s Vineyard and happy to return to Massachusetts to play, Willy Mason took the stage and played sparse songs while finger picking his electric guitar. I liked his lovely, deep voice and his banter with the audience. He sounds far older than he is. He commented on how professional the room felt and chuckled because he was wearing a wrinkled suit jacket that had been crumpled in his backpack. I liked “We Can Be Strong,” “Hard Hand to Hold,” and the very country influenced “Gold Underneath the Ground.” Check out Willy’s 2008 Newport Folk Festival set thanks to NPR. Here’s “Into Tomorrow,” too.
Laura came out wearing a red dress and Nike sneakers. She hopped up on a high stool front and center, and, surrounded by band mates on a plethora of instruments, treated us to “Rambling Man” to open her set. It’s one of my favorites, although there isn’t a Laura Marling song I don’t like. I was really happy with the variety of songs she played from all of her albums—Alas I Cannot Swim, I Speak Because I Can, and A Creature I Don’t Know.
My guess is that Laura probably doesn’t love chatting, but she was warm and her stories were endearing. She said she’d woken up early that morning to enjoy Boston and had a lot of coffee, so warned us the songs might be two or three heartbeats faster. Her drummer interjected that the band had been drinking a lot of beer, so they might slow things down and it would probably balance out in the end.
Her very talented band left her alone on stage to play solo for a while. She probably talked to us most during that part of the night. She was clear on the point that her songs are not at all autobiographical (here’s an interview in The Guardian where she elaborates on that). For example, she played her dad one of her songs (which is terrifying for her since he taught her how to play the guitar) and he asked her hours later if it was about him and demanded the story when she said it obviously wasn’t.
Someone in the audience sneezed and Laura took a moment to say “bless you.” It reminded her of the day before when she’d sneezed, and even though she was wearing headphones at the time, a woman tapped her on the shoulder and said “bless you” to her. She said that would never have happened in England. She reminisced, too, about being 16 and seeing Willy Mason play in London for the first time. It’s hard to believe that these two artists, with their deep voices and thoughtful songs, are as young as they are.
Laura played “Failure” from her first album, and talked about her eternally young looking face and how she both looks and feels 14 years old when she plays it. She also played a palpably powerful version of “Goodbye England.” She was mesmerizing. For such a tiny person, Laura has a commanding presence. Laura also played two new songs and a cover of Ryan Adams’ “My Winding Wheel” that Chris taped and you can watch at Boston Through My Eyes.
Laura’s band came back on stage and she said she didn’t really like talking on stage so she had each of her band mates introduce themselves with fun facts. Their fun facts were adorable and ranged from information about composers to fire engine inventors to displays of fruit art. It was very cute, and I appreciate that Laura took the time to celebrate her talented band.
Laura moved to wrap up the evening by telling us that playing at Berklee as an untrained high school drop out was quite intimidating, but that we’d been a lovely bunch. She also informed us that they have a way around the traditional encore, which was an instruction for us to think of the next song as the last one even though there were two more songs to come. She finished the night with a hauntingly beautiful version of “I Speak Because I Can.” You could have heard a pin drop. Laura is a tiny person but has a huge voice and songwriting chops to back it all up. I would see her again live in a heartbeat.