Laura Marling kicks off Lincoln Theatre’s newest era


British singer-songwriter Laura Marling kicked off the new era of the Lincoln Theatre on Wednesday night. (Kyle Gustafson/For The Washington Post)
September 5, 2013

As she explained from the Lincoln Theatre stage Wednesday night, Laura Marling no longer travels with a band or even a guitar tech. This casual approach, which encouraged a fair number of breaks for chitchat and even more for tuning, made the neo-folkie’s show sometimes seem more suitable for a coffeehouse than a 1,250-seat auditorium. But fans of the Britain-bred, California-based singer-songwriter appeared to treasure every strum, every trill, every mournful reflection on love’s cruelty.

Marling peaked early, with a fervent 15-minute medley of songs from her latest album, “Once I Was an Eagle,” that included the title tune, as well as “Take the Night Off” and “You Know.” The performer vowed, “I will not be a victim of romance” in a talk-singing style that was not always pretty. Her voice occasionally ascended into Joni Mitchell territory, although the jazzy arrangements — even without the recorded version’s cello and free-form percussion — suggested Van Morrison as much as Mitchell.

The singer followed that epic opener with “Master Hunter,” which borrowed a sneering line from Bob Dylan: “It ain’t me, babe.” Dylan recorded the song of that name in 1964, toward the beginning of the musical period that grounds Marling’s style. Her more tortured locutions can sound Elizabethan: “When your work is done / Into my arms come,” she sang in “Saved These Words.” But the 23-year-old’s musical influences mostly date to the 1960s and early ’70s. At a recent show, she performed a Simon & Garfunkel song from 1965; at this one, the cover was the Allman Brothers Band’s 1969 “Whipping Post.”

Because Marling was accompanied by only her two acoustic guitars — to which she attributed anthropomorphic personalities — her lyrics were conspicuous. The words were artful and often fierce, yet unsurprising; they simply mixed the dark thoughts of adolescence with the dour scenarios of old British ballads. Marling’s guitar playing was more distinctive. Using a variety of open tunings, she gave her neo-hootenanny flailing a hint of Indo Persian modes and drones. There was even a suggestion of raga in the finger-picked intro to “Saved These Words,” which closed the 65-minute concert.

Marling made several references to the rebirth of the Lincoln, where she was the first act to appear since I.M.P., which owns the 9:30 Club, became its exclusive booker. The theater was presentable for its I.M.P. debut but not visibly changed and with a few noticeable blemishes. The second “L” on the outside marquee was dark, and the air conditioning struggled. Fortunately, Marling didn’t inspire the almost-capacity crowd to do anything more sweat-inducing than rise for a standing ovation at the end of her no-encore set.

Jenkins is a freelance writer.

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