Reviewed on Tuesday July 23

 

It’s amazing how much difference the right space can make; how artists and audiences alike subtly alter their behaviour depending on the size and shape of the room they happen to be in.

When a band’s style doesn’t suit its surroundings it can make everything painfully awkward, but the opposite is also true – I’ve never seen Tim Rogers of You Am I more in his element than playing a Rolling Stones covers show at The Bridge in Rozelle, with its low ceilings, exposed wiring, and stench of stale booze and knife fights.

 

Tonight’s concert was perfectly suited to its surroundings, the hushed reverence of the audience amplifying the drama and intimacy already present in so many of the songs. Not just those of Laura Marling, either: fellow Hampshire native Marika Hackman treads similar ground to our headliner; unexpectedly dark, self-effacing lyrics hiding underneath a guitar strumming familiar folky melodies. Alone on stage Hackman seems somewhat overawed, and her songs suffer without the touches of electronica that are there on her debut album – the best moments occur when she picks up her electric guitar but plays it in the style of an acoustic, letting the ambient amplification create the texture. But Hackman has a lovely, expressive voice, and an excellent turn of phrase in her writing, and we’ll be hearing more from her before too long.

 

Marling’s set is similarly stripped back to alternating acoustic guitars and an occasional cellist. It’s an odd choice that doesn’t work all the time, particularly on the more textured and complex songs from her latest album, Once I Was An Eagle. It’s a shame to lose that texture, but the grounding reveals much, and even with the sparser arrangements the four-song suite that opens Eagle (and tonight’s show) remains breathtaking in its honesty, its lyricism and its ambition.

 

But perhaps the real revelation is Marling’s voice. She has clearly conquered any shyness about performing, and moves between rumbling, Dylan-esque speak-singing depths to glorious, soaring flights from one moment to the other. She’s not always perfect, but in those minor failings we see the full extent of her ambition, and get to giddily speculate what she could become in another four albums’ time.

 

BY HUGH ROBERTSON

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