Published Sep 24, 2011The cavernous Great Hall, with its nooks and jutting out balcony, has sucked the sound out of many a show, typically serving DJs and balls-out rock outfits better than singer-songwriters. Nevertheless, UK folk revivalist and acoustic devotee, Laura Marling, and her six-piece touring band -- complete with a two-piece string section -- were undeterred.
Early on, the sparse plucks that began "Alpha Shallows" gave way to down strokes and a melodramatic kick drum; the latter seldom fails to hold an audience rapt. Still, the subsequent austerity of "Ghosts," with its pretty keys and soft-sing-along chorus, and the ethereal "I Was Just a Card" contended with back-of-room chatter.
In response, Marling doled out what she would later deem her "bucket of scorn," good naturedly calling-out to nattering punters. "I know it sounds mean... but I'm fucking mean," the soft-spoken vocalist demurred. The well-timed chiding worked, preceding a mid-set solo session by a couple of tracks and effectively evicting a pair of troublemakers.
Alone on stage for a handful of songs, Marling dispensed charming banter, playfully cursing and false starting. Her voice, an amalgam of Ani DiFranco, Dolores O'Riordan and dustbowl America, benefited from the sparse setup. The Leonard Cohen-indebted "Night After Night," with its dry delivery and quiet plucking, was a particular highlight.
Rejoined by her band, the gig kicked into high gear, soaring for a towering take on "Sophia" -- the Robertson Davies shout-out didn't hurt -- and climaxing with stomp-along hoedown, "All My Rage." At turns beautiful, funny and rousing, it was a diverse and assured show from a wholly captivating performer.