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Every once in a generation, a simple singer-songwriter comes along that can mesmerize an audience through nothing but poetic lyricism and soulful ruminations on life and love. Laura Marling could very well be that voice for our generation. What she lacks in showy over-the-top theatrics she makes up for ten-fold in untarnished, raw, emotive power. One song deep into her set at the famous Hollywood Forever Cemetery’s Masonic Lodge and it’s painfully apparent how innately talented she is as a performer and an artist, and just how banal so many singer songwriters are in comparison.
Standing alone peering up to the rafters of the ominously dark (and quiet) Masonic Lodge, Marling wove the tapestry of opener medley “Take the Night Off” into “I Was an Eagle,” “You Know” and “Breathe” with so many interlocking parts, chord progressions and melodies, there was enough for ten songs’ worth of ideas. Marling dissects failed romance, at one point extrapolating the destination of a lover lost (“I don’t care where you’ve gone babe / I care where you go”) striking at perhaps the lovers arms they’ll run to or just her own inability to erase the memory from her mind.
She continues later, “Today I will feel something other than regret / pass me a glass and half-smoke cigarette / I’ve damn near got no dignity left,” implying her descent has reached its very bottom. By the point of the last movement of “Breathe,” her spiral has come full circle, as she recognizes that she’s done as much damage as she received (“How cruel I was to you / Cruel things I do”). Did she hurt someone to fill the hole of the pain created in her by another? Or did being truly hurt remind her of the time she was less-than-kind? It’s poetic unfurling such as that which sets her wholly apart from her contemporaries.
She continues the self-exploration on “Master Hunter” where the tone turns cold and hard. She professes, “You let men into your bed / They did know you well / They can’t get into my head / No, they don’t have a hope in hell.” Hard to say whether it is pure self-deprecation or a solemn vow of self reliance, but she tumbles further in this direction on a new song claiming, “My road is narrow and I always walk alone.”
Her guitar technique is also beyond impressive. Standard fans may not notice it, but Marling is a studied virtuoso in the basic tenants of what makes for true folk songwriting. She balances a diverse approach to chords and melodies, leaning heavily on root-and-chord progressions and modal melodic change-ups. Marling needs no capo—the locking device that allows the guitar to be played in a different key without re-tuning—she wields the skill to play chords in any key required without the added help. Yes, this is completely possible.
The longing ode “What He Wrote” and “Saved These Words” finish off the set. Marling explains as always that she prefers not to do encores, quipping with the audience, “My life is awkward enough as it is.” There’s really only one negative about this event: the oddly unenthused Los Angeles crowd. Granted, the Masonic Lodge does make for an awed atmosphere, but this felt like the typical LA crowd of half-interested scenesters rather than true fans. This is greatness through and through, and Marling deserves a response commensurate with the effort she puts in.