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Laura Marling At Beacon Theater, Monday, December 8th, 2014 Reviewed

Laura Marling, The Ghost Of Christmas Present, Beacon Theatre, December 2014

Laura Marling, The Ghost Of Christmas Present, Beacon Theatre, December 2014

When last heard from Laura Marling was leaving St. Ann’s in Brooklyn, jumping into her car and traveling across the nation to her new home on the West Coast, where girls are girls and sunstroke is just a tanning lotion away for an English royalty rose recast as agitated folk pop star. Hint: I don’t care how cute the puppy and child are, no Coppertone for you, reach for the harder stuff.

Anyway, that was fifteen months ago and over and above Once I Was An Eagle there was a terrific new song on WNYC back in May 2013, “Bleed Me Dry”,  and another “David” and “One Day Soon”” which she introduced at Music Hall Of Williamsburg. No kick here, all aces.

Then silence till February 2014 when we got the lovely and fragile “Born To Love”. Last week we heard Laura had played a four song set of new songs with a full band in L.A. and over here came news she would be playing as part of WFUV’s Holiday Cheer concert at the Beacon Theatre, which she did last night and if you can consider a two song six minute solo acoustic performance a set, it was hands down one of the best performances of the year.

I’m not a WFUV-FM  fan, they don’t cover enough ground and  they can’t help themselves , they’re a little pompous and when I bought a ticket to the show I’d assumed it was Conor Oberst, who I do like, and who re-released a major Bright Eyes Christmas album last year on Saddlecreek. I thought I was  gonna get a two hour  season set plus guest stars… maybe even Maria Taylor!. What I got was  fair to middling snoozers the Lone Bellows, the Felice Brothers and Jonathan Wilson –sort of Americana as big time alt, plus the bizarre Natalie Merchant and the much better at City Winery, where she plays constantly, Suzanne Vegas. And despite an opening “Lenders in the Temple” –nobodies fave Conor song, he wouldn’t be back out for another 150 minutes. A long time to suffer for a guy whose prime happened in 2008. When I saw him at Town Hall a coupla years before that, Conor had so much ace material it was difficult for him to play a bad set, today he has so much lousy material an Oberst concert is an extended game of Russian Roulette and we are not sure which song is gonna bring us down but we know one of them will. So this was all about Laura Marling and after a pretty good set by soul harmony indie Brooklyn et ceteras the Lone Bellows, Laura stormed on stage.

Dressed like the ghost of Stevie Nicks and with a pixie haircut which made her like the ghost of a ghost of Laura who broke my heart before I met her, played two songs, one new and one not new, miracle of miracle in the same key: two superb, vicious, and powerful slices of jaundice desire somewhere between sarcasm and delirium. A couple of days ago I wrote that however great Cat Stevens is, he is rhythmically weak. It seriously hurt his recent blues album. Laura plays rhythm very well. The two  songs she played were rhythm guitar works, they beat hard and they beat constant and Laura sang spoke them somewhere between “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding” and Danny Brown’s “Old”. She kept the flow but also teased it out and stretched it bent then straight again

The second song “How Strange I Love You” she’s had since September of last year and it is the keeper, the story of infidelity and a search for meaning, his meaning, the married man with a wife and children for whom love is a violent shake awake and who Laura surrounds the feelings, surrounds and shakes it down.

The first song “Devil’s Spoke” (off I Speak Because I Can) isn’t an emotional counterpoint; this one is as much, maybe more, about sex and Marling’s need, aggressiveness indeed. Peculiarly is her word here, strange the word for the second song; both of them are almost belittling the man with her desire, it is borderline sexuality as cynical attituding, as otherness as harsh as sex can be.

But my bet is she played em back to back  because she didn’t have the time to retune her guitar, she didn’t have time to speak to us either though Laura is nothing if not a friendly performer. She wasn’t last night. She made two declarations of desire and limitations in a theatre with one of the cleanest sounds in the city, the acoustics were tremendous and you could hear every beat, every movement of her fingers down the fret. And then she walked and I swear I didn’t exhale once. A guy sitting next to me whispered “oh my god, oh my god” after it was over. “Try and bring meaning to all things and as I try to take you in I cant wait to be alone, then you fall in love with me and your love becomes my responsibility and I can never do you wrong.”

Laura has one equal in pop, Taylor Swift. They are very similar performers, very much sexual politicians, the same age, the same confusion between power and submission. Laura has the better voice and is a better songwriter, Taylor understands the zeitgeist and writes hooks in her sleep. I give em equal placing as lyricists and if I prefer Laura it as much due to her semi-popular position as a superiority in any specific form. Also, Taylor is New York: brash and intense, Laura is L.A.: peculiar and self-centered.

Not many people could play a six minute set this strong. It even took Fire Engines 15 minutes to get up and use us. Can a six minute set be the concert of the year? Sure, why not?

Grade: A

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