Live review: Laura Marling at Union Chapel, Islington
- Credit: Joel Ryan Photo
The feted singer-songwriter beams a transfixing set straight into your front room – is this the future of live music?
Given the times we’re in, it’s probably fitting that the first big-name star to lay on a lockdown gig that’s fit for purpose is the queen of considered, folksy introspection who creates beauty from emotionally wrought circumstance.
Much better than, say, the Stones’ rather pixelated Charlie Watts arhythmically playing his flight cases to You Can’t Always Get What You Want (courtesy of April’s hit-and-miss Transatlantic love-in Together At Home).
This was the real deal, as close to a ‘proper’ live gig as we can get right now – Marling filmed in ultra-high definition and her bell-clear vocals and delicate guitar playing fed through a sound desk at the usually intimate, always evocative Union Chapel.
The pay-per-view acoustic set replaces Marling’s planned European tour, due to stop in just down the road at the Assembly Hall last month, in support of her sterling seventh album Song For Our Daughter.
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Up to 2,000 fans across Europe stumped up £12 to stream the hour-long show instead – less than half the asking price to see her in the flesh on tour – and for the first time ever I could enjoy a drink while watching a gig at the dry Chapel (still a working church, of course).
It was the perfect setting; its in-the-round structure, slender arched windows and professional lighting created evocative backdrops from any angle.
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The camera roved around her in a late-era Top-Of-The-Pops style, but the songstress remained diffident and largely inscrutable throughout, staring in to the middle distance with only fleeting glimpses down the lens.
Marling didn’t put a foot wrong, gliding from song to song, letting her deeply personal lyrics and rich, limber vocals shine. With no between-song banter, the obvious, glaring omission was the applause – what’s the streamed-gig etiquette for clapping at your screen?
Held Down and Alexandra, from the new album which took the lion’s share of the set, were stand-out songs, the former just as strong when stripped of backing singers. Marling’s Joni Mitchell lilt was as spellbinding as ever, and the hour flew by.
As an event, it occupied the space between performance and gig. That spine-tingling sense of the communal experience – the electric atmosphere of being in the room, feeling the air move and being among a few to witness a truly special performance – is an inevitable casualty.
Of course, streaming won’t replace the live gig, but perhaps there is room for it in an industry where artists need all the help they can get.
How many fans would forego the 50-minute Tube journey and a babysitter’s fees to see a band for a smaller amount, from their own comfy sofa and no queue at the bar?