The first time I saw Laura Marling play live was on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury Festival in 2011. Given the sheer magnitude of that stage and a spot in the billing that placed her just before a certain Paul Simon, she could be forgiven for being a tad nervy. Whilst her interim chat between songs was indeed a little anxious and uneasy, her performance was not.
Fast forward six years later and a very different performer takes the stage at London’s Roundhouse. At the ripe old age of 27, and with six records under her belt, her presence in this impressive circular building is almost stately. These days her chat is as assured as her performance was then, and her performance has become richer.
She and her band launch straight into the sublimely sexy ‘Soothing’ from her latest record Semper Femina. The teasing bassline is as seductive as it is on record, and somewhat surprisingly the chorus elicits excited whoops from the crowd. With merely one song Marling has cast her spell. No warm up required.
The transformative magic of the evening is extended to stage decorations that see the monitors and mics decked out with flowers and foliage. You get the feeling Marling has taken a cue from her work with the RSC’s 2013 production of As You Like It and brought a little of the Forest of Arden to Camden.
The first half of her set is dominated by Semper Femina, and its charms are really elevated in a live situation. Marling is not, and never likely to be, a physically dynamic performer, but no matter as her voice does all the talking so to speak. ‘The Valley’ exhibits the subtle inflections and skilled shifts in the timbre of her vocals that make it such a quietly powerful and touching song. And for all the gentle folk-flecked character of her music the live set up injects a real swagger into ‘Don’t Pass Me By,’ and ‘Nothing Not Really’ is given an incandescent strut.
Marling rolls out a string of fan favourites for the rest of the evening, including a wonderfully defiant ‘I Speak Because I Can’ and then ending with a rousing ‘Rambling Man.’ But the evening belongs to the songs of the excellent Semper Femina, and how far this fine artist has come in a few short, prolific years.