This evening's sold-out show sees a dry, endearingly awkward Laura. Royal Festival Hall, London, Tuesday, August 11
That’s the proudest I’ve ever been of anything,” admits Laura Marling after her short film is projected above the stage, introducing who she’ll play with tonight. Cutesy, heartfelt and arty – well, it is in black and white – it lets us in on the intimate folky world in which Laura resides with the likes of Mumford & Sons, Peggy Sue, Pete Roe, Alessi’s Ark and Johnny Flynn… Live8 it ain’t.
This evening’s sold-out show sees a dry, endearingly awkward Laura – at one point she apologises in case she comes across as too sarcastic – acting as compere to a variety show like you’ve never seen. Laura’s songs, old and new, are as awe-inspiring as ever, even more so in the sophisticated surrounds of the Royal Festival Hall, with rousing dustbowl ditty ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’ sitting in bold contrast to the disturbing depths of ‘Night Terror’. New tracks come in the shape of the silky soft ‘Mama How Far I’ve Come’, with its honky tonk breakdown and ‘Made By Maid’, which sees Laura utter “forgive me, I am only a maid”, making the song, rather wonderfully, seem like an answer to ‘A Man Needs A Maid’ by Neil Young, who Laura supported on tour back in June.
Yet as keen as we are to hear what she’s been working on since her last album, tonight there’s a surfeit of talent. Laura’s piano player for one, the jaw-dropping Pete Roe who, howling “pickle me in every kind of sin” on ‘The Devil’s Dancefloor,’ is the missing link between John Martyn and Leonard Cohen. Meanwhile, with Laura on guitar and Marcus Mumford on backing vocals, whistling fiddler Andrew Bird’s ‘Headsoak’ makes the whole thing take a turn for the Burt Bacharach, while Alessi does her best Joanna Newsom-inspired bamboozled baby voice on ‘Hummingbird’. Finally, an astounding, intense performance of ‘Indigo’ by Sons Of Noel And Adrian sends the adoring audience into raptures. With friends like these, well, who needs anything else?