sun 20/09/2020

Laura Marling, Union Chapel, YouTube review - communication breakdown | reviews, news & interviews

Laura Marling, Union Chapel, YouTube review - communication breakdown

Laura Marling, Union Chapel, YouTube review - communication breakdown

Solo performance in empty venue doesn't make involving viewing

Marling: a work in progress?

Music, as the sociologist Simon Frith long ago pointed out, is “an experience of placing: in responding to a song we are drawn, haphazardly, into affective emotional alliances with the performer and with the performer’s other fans”. Music makes you feel things, it’s about shared emotional experiences. And while, since the invention of the Walkman, those experiences are possible in the isolation of one’s own headphones, nothing can begin to touch the communal concert experience.

Music, as the sociologist Simon Frith long ago pointed out, is “an experience of placing: in responding to a song we are drawn, haphazardly, into affective emotional alliances with the performer and with the performer’s other fans”. Music makes you feel things, it’s about shared emotional experiences. And while, since the invention of the Walkman, those experiences are possible in the isolation of one’s own headphones, nothing can begin to touch the communal concert experience.

Performing alone onstage in a concert space, the audience unseen and unheard, can’t be easy, which is perhaps why Laura Marling’s live stream from the Union Chapel in Islington, North London, was bloodless and, frankly, rather boring. A dozen songs were left to speak entirely for themselves over the course of 80 minutes, the only other form of communication non-verbal glances and facial expressions exchanged with her guitar tech. No word of greeting. Not even much of a smile.

The Chapel looked beautiful, light pouring in – not “like butterscotch”, for it was the wrong time of day – through the stained glass windows. Candles and a rug adorned the stage, Marling alone on it with just her Martin and Guild guitars for company, clad in boots and jeans and a pale polo-neck. The occasion was a ticket-only benefit for The Trussell Trust and Refuge, two vital charities, so good on Marling for stepping up and stepping out. But perhaps the show might have worked better if she’d taken a leaf from Mary Chapin Carpenter’s book and engaged with the audience via less sophisticated technology – anyone who’s dipped into Carpenter’s series of Songs from Home, 23 so far, Angus the golden retriever an elegant companion, will know what I mean. It’s chatty and intimate; she smiles, takes us into her confidence, a guest in her home. The intimacy draws you in.

Marling looked up and out into an audience that wasn’t physically there, yet with no attempt to communicate directly with those at home, as “live” TV tries to do. She drew mostly on songs from Once I Was An Eagle (2013), including the “suite” which comprises the first four songs, and Song for Our Daughter, released in April and with which she would in normal circumstances be touring. There was also a dip back into her 2008 debut, Alas, I Cannot Swim, for “Tap at My Window” and her second album, I Speak Because I Can, with “Rambling Man”. She closed with “Once” from Eagle.

All credit to Marling for doing the gig – and particularly for bringing forward her latest album by four months because of the crisis: most artists have been postponing releases. She’s a skilled guitar player, mixing elements of Travis-style picking with some nifty riffs and runs, often in open tunings – which she’s been discussing in an engaging series of lockdown tutorials. She has compared playing live to having toothache, which can’t be fun, and you feel she’s better with a band. Marling’s young still, just 30, with seven much-garlanded albums under her belt, her writing revered by many as being up there with Joni Mitchell. Perhaps you need to be her age and younger to fully appreciate it but it always seems to me simply derivative, uneven, and unfinished. Take this, from “Alexandra”, which opens her latest album:

You had to say
You feel too bad
You could not bear
Be understood
I had to try
A fuck to give
Why should I die
So you can live
What did Alexandra know?

What, indeed. And I have to say I don’t much care. 

Perhaps the show might have worked better if she’d engaged with the audience via less sophisticated technology

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Share this article

Comments

An experience can be shared emotionally without words - in fact in my opinion that’s what music’s about. In classical concerts you don’t get anyone talking between the movements because it’s not required. Sometimes the chat in the online gigs gets a bit ‘samey’ and they can also become a bit predictable. Laura Marlings concert was performed in the style of a classical suite and that’s exactly how I experienced and enjoyed it. All credit to Marling for breaking the mould.

I agree that audiences are often noisy and sometimes rude, and more concerned with replenishing their glasses. I wasn't suggesting a stream of chat just some words. And Bernstein and Rattle and others talk to audiences. The classical comparison is risible though

The expectations of a pre-covid 19 experience seem to taint this review. In live performance, the energy that flows between performer and the audience is omnidirectional. Marling and her team accept this loss, turning our viewpoint of the space around, revealing the empty chapel. Everyone can now acknowledge a camera on a live stream, whether that be from a TV studio or via a Smartphone. Marling chose not to. Captured intimately, with beauty in the small details afforded to the closeup, this was a considered and poignant performance that made me long to be back in the Union Chapel again soon.

yes it was interesting to a point, but the problem is she's just not that good. She needs other people, on stage and in the audience. Nothing she does is truly memorable

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters