The Royal Albert Hall was the first venue outside of Japan to host a sumo wresting tournament.
It was a fairly inauspicious snippet shared by double bassist Nick Pini at tonight's gig, and yet, behind its aimlessly quirky exterior, there lies an odd resonance to the night itself. Sometimes ambiguity is a beautiful thing. A phrase, which not only defines the evening, but the lady herself.
After an impressive seventeen stop tour of the US, Laura Marling returned home to deliver ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’s’ crowing run-through before she puts the beast to bed. Although stunning, the choice of venue does create uniquely regal expectations, and as the lights dim the audience sit in theatrical silence.
Mirroring her tracklisting in choice of opener, 'The Muse' is immediately reassuring. While 'I Was Just a Card' is just absolute testimony that Marling’s petite shoulders are more than capable of carrying the pressures of the evening. Her stance and brief audience acknowledgement is shy and self- conscious, while her acoustic is admirably crisp for such a large venue and her vocals unwavering.
Perched on a stand in the centre of the hall, she alternates between four microphones as each song closes. This means her back is continuously turned from three quarters of the audience. A questionable move for such a grand venue, yet this somehow adds intimacy to the performance rather than catastrophically stripping it.
A satanic red glow lights 'The Beast', as devilish desires ring through the chords. Stripped of her band, 'Night After Night' bares all. Back arched and standing on the tiptoes of her discordant Nike trainers, a low breathy tale of halcyon love is whispered. Amazingly, during 'Blackberry Man' there is a complete absence of phones glowing and cameras flickering, a rarity created not by boredom, but a consensus of timid appreciation.
By 'Sophia' her multi-instrumental band have passed round instruments like wooded dutchies. The pianist picks up a ukulele, while a gloriously orchestral cellist suddenly transforms into an equally formidable harpist. All creating quite the understated spectacle, as Marling herself remains genuinely faultless. A slight lyric stumble in 'My Maniac and Me' briefly breaks the momentum, but supportive applause sets the night back on its way.
Excluding Latitude it will be the last stage she’ll share with her band, an imminently talented troop she’s had with her for over two years. Ambivalently the night lacks any ounce of sentimentality. Such is what to expect with Marling though, who is a fairly puzzling creature herself.
Opening with an admittance of being terrified, she maintains a calm stillness throughout, particularly when facing hecklers. Her songwriting bleeds with love, faith and sorrow, while still retains Mitchellesque restraint from giving too much of herself away.
Tonight may be a goodbye for now, but it is certainly no farewell.