Seven songs into her set at the Masonic Lodge in Los Angeles' Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Tuesday night, Laura Marling looked up at her seated audience. "Sorry I haven't said much to you," the 23-year-old English troubadour softly muttered. "Nothing very exciting happened today."
That small tribe of Marling converts gathered in that creepy red-lit room would beg to differ. Her new album Once I Was an Eagle is staggeringly good — incredible storytelling and perfect vocal chords refracted through her enchanted guitar. She began an intimate set by playing the LP's opening four-song suite, each of which connects to the next, making for a 16-minute experiment in heartstring-plucking and bewitching poetry set to softly droning and occasionally exploding folk strum. Did we mention she played unaccompanied? (More on that in our new Marling Q&A.)
And after "Take the Night Off," "I Was an Eagle," "You Know" and "Breathe," Marling did what had to be done. She sealed the spell with "Master Hunter," her single that pits Fiona Apple’s lithely swaggering vocal delivery against Bill Callahan’s saddle-slapping giddyup! wallop, all while detailing the myriad ways in which she shall forever be shielded from the effects of love. It was heartbreaking what she did, weaving this clause into the very fabric of what made us fall for her song after song. When she'd shred between words, she'd throw her head back like she wanted it to roll off of her shoulders.
"Love Be Brave" was the one exception to hard cynicism Marling's cultivated in her songs. "How does he make love seem sweet? Isn’t that some heavy feat?" she asks before adding, "Here comes a change over me." But this was a mere three minutes sandwiched between: an unfamiliar song whose most memorable line was, "Love, you are hell by another name"; and 2010's "I Speak Because I Can" which begins, "My husband left me last night," and quickly descends a mental spiral of domestic anxieties and unfulfilled dreams. That change in her was no shifting sea — just a distraction from an inky black ocean of learned indifference. We're better for it.
After her twelfth song, the nimbly epistolary "What He Wrote," Marling broke again. "It’s been a pleasure," she said oddly, as if she too forgot her place in this room full of others. "I had a really nice gig...so...thanks for that." She trailed off like last night's lover gathering her strewn belongings on her way to the door, then explained that the next song would be her last, that she doesn't do encores because it’s awkward, and, "As you can imagine, my life is awkward enough." And for the close, she'd saved Eagle's closing number "Saved These Words," which played like an epilogue to the show: Life’s not easy, love's not easy, perhaps there’s hope, but alas...only song.
"Take the Night Off"
"I Was an Eagle"
"Love Be Brave"
"I Speak Because I Can"
"What He Wrote"
"Saved These Words"