Moving and eerie, but unfortunately distant
Set in the eerily empty Union Chapel, the angelic sight of platinum hair and cashmere, lit by candlesticks and a hollow warm glow; there is no better place for a livestream of the ethereal, matter-of-fact acoustic tones of Laura Marling. The stage, in place of an alter, was dressed barely, with a bare bones set reflecting the underproduced, simple excellence of Marling’s voice. Her emotional lyrics, I am sure sound perfect in any setting, but somehow each lyric felt like a love letter in the chapel.
Marling’s voice draws together a perfect combination of speak-singing, telling you the way of the world with abrupt honesty, cushioned with flowing emotion. The empty pews sat before Marling as her set began with ‘Take The Night Off’, and I was hit by a sudden moment of understanding of the overwhelming significance of an empty audience in this day and age.
To me, Marling has always had the same clear and gorgeous melodies, vocals and demeanour of Joni Mitchell (a true compliment, I know). In her lyrics to ‘You Know’, Marling talks of a “freewheelin’ troubadour”, and despite her location being so far from that of a roaming musician, the meta energy of these lyrics are poignant to say the least. Somehow there is a desperate sense of liberty and tradition to Marling’s voice, in spite of her being streamed to an audience of just over one thousand fans on DICE.
Marling seemed somewhat detached in this gig, glassy and distant. This was not helped by the fact that she did not engage with the virtual audience. Even when tuning one of her many guitars, she did not talk or communicate with her crowd which led me to feel like there were some aching gaps between instrument changes and tuning. It’s very difficult to get talking to the audience or talking at all in these livestreams. Because of the strange nature of these sets, the physical distance and only virtual communication, it must be very awkward for musicians, and it did seem uncomfortable for Marling.
Union Chapel, a working church in London with a 900 capacity, felt so poignantly empty throughout this gig. Even though we were not in the church with Marling, some of the expletives in her songs still made me shudder a little, just thinking about those lyrics being sung in such a stunning place of worship.
The second song Marling played was ‘I Was An Eagle’ and this song, if you have heard it, you will know is pure lush emotion, nostalgia and self assurance. Changing throughout the set from having her face to the audience and her back to them complimented her emotional vocals and gave us a variety of stunning candlelit views of Union Chapel. What Marling can do to a middle 8 as is demonstrated in all of her songs is borderline spiritual. She takes us lyrically round the houses and we find ourselves in a jazzy, riff haven of songwriting. The best songs in this livestream were for sure ‘Take the Night Off’, ‘I Was An Eagle’, ‘Tap at My Window’, ‘Song For Our Daughter’ and ‘End Of The Affair’.
I could write an essay on the lyricism and musical brilliance of these songs, and this gig made me fall for them even more. But I must comment on perhaps the most moving of Marling’s songwriting in this album. ‘End Of The Affair’ tells us the story of pain, love and having to say goodbye, and not once does Marling’s voice waiver in its feeling. Her focus on the lyrics “I love you, goodbye, now let me live my life”, was simply perfect. Heartbreaking and perfect.
‘Song For Our Daughter’ was another masterpiece and beacon of brilliance in this set. She lays out the risks of life for her daughter but also the beauty, and how desperately it must be lived. Her alternation from major to minor always complimenting her lyrics takes us along this journey of emotion she must have felt while writing these songs, allowing her to perform them flawlessly.
When faced with the long aching shots of such a stunning church, with a small woman stood, her voice filling every pew and every screen watching avidly at home, tugging heart strings and filling us with a nostalgia we didn’t know we had, we can really see how live-streamed gigs, particularly paid ones, can be done so well.
Keep in the loop with any updates or announcements from Laura Marling here.