Laura Marling fans enjoyed a probably not-to-be-repeated treat Saturday night at Zanzabar -- a chance to see a fine artist in a very intimate setting. The crowd was packed in tight with barely enough space to fan themselves in the heated arc around the small stage. It's hard to imagine that Marling's star won't continue to rise, as she shows no signs of slumping in her songwriting output. All this leads me to believe that future visits to the area will be in far larger venues.
Opening for Marling was Bro. Stephen, an indie folk singer from Bloomington, Indiana. I don't know if the sign posted on the column was especially for him -- "Please remain quiet during the performance" -- but it certainly was needful. He might be the quietest performer I've ever heard in that type of setting. I found it peculiar, but maybe that's just me.
Marling arrived on stage to a very eagerly awaiting crowd, squeezed in as close as they could get. Some technical problems slowed down the first song, forcing the shy singer to find some banter while a new guitar cord was unraveled from her "equipment bag," a plain canvas tote that she waved wryly in the air. What Marling proves is that you don't need a lot of fancy accoutrement if you have talent. Her presence is commanding despite her pale, ethereal look. She doesn't so much perform songs, as she inhabits them, infusing them with dramatic passion even in her body's stillness. With Marling you get the sense of something very furious and volatile, barely restrained behind a steely and pensive surface, which is immediately arresting. And in addition to her versatile voice, with its echoes of Joni Mitchell, Marling's accomplished guitar playing adds further depth and texture, taking advantage of alternative tunings that fill the breaks between songs -- an interval that she apologizes for in advance, although I don't think anyone minded.
Marling opened with her new song "I Was an Eagle," a defiantly delivered message to an old lover. When she sings, "I will not be a victim of romance," you tend to believe her. Some of the songs on her setlist were "Flicker and Fail," a song her father wrote and that she adapted, and a lovely cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "Kathy's Song," which is one of my favorites from classic folk music. The quietly building "Sophia" that breaks into a country-rock stomp midway through and the haunting "Night after Night," both from her latest album, A Creature I Don't Know, were very strong. And on the crowd favorite, "Rambling Man," the familiar lyrics spilled from the audience unbidden, resulting in an impromptu choir that blended quietly with Marling's lead. Sometimes sing-alongs aren't that welcome, but this one was kind of nice.
It was a fairly short set that definitely left the audience wanting more, but Marling stuck to her plan of no fooling on encores, and announced her last song, another new one, "Not My Curse." Short, but sweet, seemed to be the general consensus on the night. Fans seemed genuinely happy to have had the opportunity to hear Marling in such a cozy setting, and no doubt, are hoping for return trips to Louisville when she releases her next album and launches the next major tour.
Bro. Stephen opened
A rapt crowd
[Photo credits: Selena Frye]