Laura Marling Mesmerizes With the Live Debut of Short Movie at Warsaw

Karen Gardiner for the Village Voice
Laura Marling at Warsaw
On March 23, English folk singer-songwriter Laura Marling released her fifth album, the partially plugged-in and deeply American-inspired Short Movie. At a sold-out show at Brooklyn's Warsaw the same night, she displayed the more determined turn her music has taken on the new record.

Irish act Villagers, made up of Conor O'Brien and a harpist, opened with a quiet set of carefully crafted indie-folk songs with delicate melodies and dark lyricism.

Marling in turn took the stage and began with the restless "False Hope" from Short Movie, a song that tells of sleepless nights and crazed neighbors in a New York City apartment. The gritty guitar hook lays the foundation for her assured vocals singing lyrics that nevertheless still show traces of the awkwardness of growing into an identity, asking, "Is it still OK that I don't know how to be alone?"

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Underwhelmed And Overstimulated, Part III: Occupying The Year Of The Woman Cliché In Hopes Of Blowing It Up

Kanye West at Occupy Wall Street; confused woman.
Sound of the City's year-end roundtable, with contributions from Tom Ewing, Eric Harvey, Maura Johnston, Nick Murray, and Katherine St. Asaph, continues. Follow along here.

Hello all, and thanks! I'm honored to be here. Let's talk about the collapse of the global economy.

Or rather, let's not; as tempting as it is to link early 2011's glut of apocalyptic dance or late 2011's druggy numbness to financial panic or cultural malaise, you'd have to glibly ignore 99% of both music and the cultural moment. Even the arguments that almost worked didn't, like the reductive meme that Jay-Z and Kanye West's Watch the Throne was just about being rich, not about the experience of being black and having become rich. And speaking of the 99%, it's far too soon to anoint any Occupy Wall Street anthem. (Sorry, Jonah, Miley's track is just a fanvid.) There's been music on the ground, of course, and there's an album coming out, but it's telling (of my now-bastardized Google Reader feed, if nothing else) that my main associations between music and Occupy are three things: the Radiohead non-concert that turned out to be a new-media bro's prank, the musicians whose Zuccotti cameos were probably out of good intent but in practice indistinguishable from photo ops, and the albums in Occupy's library, which was seized after the NYPD raids—alas, the cloud couldn't save it.

Nor can megastars—they're too busy mythologizing themselves to survive in lieu of those megasales. There are exceptions; candor in interviews and mega-megasales aside, you can't really call Adele a "celebrity," at least not using that term. (Contrary to rockist belief, this is not a selling point.) But take Rihanna, who's wearing herself out being better at this sort of thing than anyone else. Icky news stories? Out-ick them on Twitter! Gossip cackling about Chris Brown? Tease it in the "We Found Love" video! Moral guardians carping about being too sexy? Send racks of raunch down the Talk That Talk assembly line!

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Live: Laura Marling + Lucinda Black Bear at Union Hall

Laura Marling: like watching a young woman bare her soul for her cat

Live: Laura Marling + Lucinda Black Bear
Union Hall
Friday January 18

Last week, Laura Marling played four shows. As far as young, possibly sappy, possibly brilliant, singer-songwriters go, the 17-year-old from Reading, UK is possibly one of the best to come through these parts in a long time. She’s awkward, like your little sister was when she was going through puberty. You look at her, and think she’s still so innocent, still so naïve, sitting there in her red Mickey Mouse sweatshirt with stringy blonde hair pulled back. She could be studying Spanish because there’s a big test tomorrow. Or bitching about her parents’ lame rules.

Alas, it’s none of that. Well, it’s a lot of those thoughts running through my head, because her youthful looks probably remind me of my own fleeting youth, as well as the rest of the NPR contributors in the audience. But Marling manages to lure you in because she never focuses on you, or anyone in the audience. She just stares downward at the floor, looking a bit cross-eyed, as she strums—while her male partner, a nice enough seeming lad, plays along, adding some soft drum rhythms and backing guitars.

Her voice sounds like Beth Orton’s—if that’s your thing, you’d love Marling. Her songs are sparse and simplistic the way Orton’s early material was, but Marling’s a bit darker. Her tune “Night Terror” describes protecting her boyfriend from those who are haunting her lover; so much so, she’s willing to put up a fight. Yet she feels a bit more disturbed in a Nick Drake way; a bit more soul-baring than I recall Orton’s Trailer Park-era ever being. She took a few crowd jabs in stride when she mentioned she’d be “checking out Williamsburg” the following day, which provided a rare smile and acknowledgment that there were people watching her. But mostly watching Marling feels like you’re spying on some young woman who's baring her soul for her cat.

Headlining the evening was Lucinda Black Bear, a rock-noir outfit headed by C.Gibbs (a/k/a Christian Gibbs). Gibbs is neither awkward, nor young; in fact, he’s extremely confident in commanding this five piece he’s recently assembled, who're bolstered by a cello and a violin. Gibbs has been around the game awhile; he flirted with a major label release in 1999, and has subsequently released two records this decade. He’s received accolades over the years from high end places such as the New York Times and NPR, but seemingly has failed to catch on with those most likely be his fans—those who appreciate Okkervil River or Magnolia Electric Company / Songs: Ohia.

Unlike Marling, Lucinda Black Bear sing songs about fighting bears. Well, just one song, really, involves a throwdown: “Fought The Bear” is a large sounding rocker, a full-on assault of Gibbs crowing and crescendo’ing about a quick brush with death, something that fits his band's morose vibe. He passionately convinces us that this bear fight (with his bare hands) really happened, something that as we get older, we don’t even consider possible. There was a time, decades ago, that fighting bears seemed like a real possibility as did playing professional sports. Another one of the staples in Lucinda Black Bear’s catalog is “Kites,” a slow, twangy ballad that highlights Gibb’s abstract storytelling. It’s not a carefree kite flying song (although flying kites, is in fact, referenced) but instead comes off a bit bitter, a bit jaded, and dejected, as Gibbs describes coming to terms with losing a friend. Gibbs himself puts this into his performances, a downsized version of himself that the jaded and the heartbroken can appreciate—those with imagination, yet who were never rewarded for that quality.

Lucinda Black Bear might be just getting off the ground, and Gibbs has assembled a talented backing band. But his song arrangements (like on the album) would even lend themselves to a larger ensemble, maybe a piano here and there, and a banjo or mandolin would even sound appropriate—but for Union Hall’s tiny stage, a five piece was enough for the moment.