Laura Marling - HMV Apollo, London
On last year’s third album, A Creature I Don’t Know, Laura Marling was supported by some heavyweight backing, smatterings of orchestration transporting the work some way from the Mercury-acclaimed intimacy of her debut. The instrumentation has expanded in line with her popularity: she is now able to fill the cavernous Hammersmith Apollo, supported by six multi-instrumentalists.
Sumptuous realisations of recent songs, including the French horn-led opener ‘I Was Just a Card’, came at a cost. Their richness echoed around the hall, making an indiscernible side note of the lyrics - as if her voice was unable to rise above the thickness of the arrangements. Marling’s maturity beyond her years has been a running cliché in the press ever since her emergence, but the way her voice was dwarfed in the presence of newly grown arrangements made of her an unexpectedly small presence on a big stage.
Although the full band numbers intensified the distance between Marling and the audience, a quieter period restored the closeness of tours gone by. A charming version of ‘Ghosts’ saw her gentle finger-picking neatly complemented by Pete Roe’s light piano motifs. Having mercifully drawn the attention back to herself, she broke a loop of mostly insubstantial banter to dedicate ‘Flicker and Fail’ to her father (whose own song had provided its basis). The captivating solo renditions of ‘Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)’ and ‘Failure’ which followed gave the set an understated but dramatic lift.
Towards the close, ‘Sophia’ epitomised the two-sidedness of the evening. Following its mellow opening, the song’s climax – dense with country rock guitar, drums and backing vocals – overpowered her voice once more. Perhaps ironically, as her tours enter the biggest venues, it seems that the smallest of her songs remain the most potent.