Laura Marling is simultaneously one of the most consistent and diverse musicians in the world. At only 27, she’s released six albums, each one representing a different period in her life and every time she tours Australia she brings with her something different. This time around, she’s touring her most recent record Semper Femina, an LP with a title that literally translates to “always a woman” in Latin. Taking to the Opera House stage for the second time, she cut a commanding figure. Gone was the indie folk artist that shyly moved her way through sets almost a decade ago. Marling is a self-assured artist now and a captivating one at that.
Marling only left one song from her new album off the setlist and yet there was something very familiar about the folk tones of the new songs. She’s done away with the rock rumblings of her last album Short Movie and instead she focussed on her strong-bodied, acoustic songs. She opened with the elongated Soothing, which built tension only to release it with luscious orchestral sweeps. Marling still has the trademark drawl to her and it brings some serious strength to tracks like Wild Fire where she sings, “You wanna get high? Overcome those desires before you come to me.”
As commanding as those stronger moments backed by the band are, there’s always something hypnotising about watching and hearing Marling slide her hands up and down the guitar strings as she sings purely on a stripped-back number like Next Time. Once the band left the stage she proved this further with a heart-warming rendition of I Speak Because I Can‘s Goodbye England (Covered In Snow). Even though her lyrical intelligence has grown since then, there’s a naivety that shines through which is an alluring juxtaposition to the striking maturity she possesses now.
As per most Marling shows, the audience was completely silent unless they were applauding. Marling spoke softly during songs but she was quick to move from one to another. She used to explain each song in more detail but there’s a welcome mystery now that seems to have come with added confidence. The one song she does have a prelude for is Daisy which she says is about one of her friend’s grandmothers who was a prostitute.
Marling left plenty of favourites out of the set including Ghosts and Sophia but there were no complaints. She’s built herself into a rare artist that can construct a setlist with anything she likes. Like Joni Mitchell, she’s got a catalogue so consistent that there’s almost no point in plucking singles off an album. She’s a formidable story-teller and her skill only gets better to aid that. Of course, it’s not all about Marling. Her band are so in tune with her with the backup singers in particular adding an extra depth to her words.
In the final moments, she swept from the Mediterranean strength of Salinas to the bluesy emotion of Once before finishing on the ever-rousing Rambling Man. They’re all songs from different albums but she tied them together so effortlessly that you wouldn’t know. She exited the stage with little fuss, just the way she likes it. She packs enough into her music now that she rarely needs to say anything outside of it. That’s the mark of an extraordinary songwriter.