Laura Marling @ 9:30 Club - 7/31/15

If it surprises you to hear that British folk music can sell out the 9:30 Club, you probably weren’t there on Friday night. That night the room was transformed into an English folk club – or at least as close as the design of the venue would allow – as three singers took to the stage to perform for a packed crowd of fans.

Opening the show was Marika Hackman, playing songs from her debut album, We Slept at Last. She was followed by actor-turned-musician Johnny Flynn, performing a solo set of songs from his three albums. Though he has recently appeared to be concentrating more on his acting (since releasing his most recent album Country Mile in 2013, he has appeared in the British sitcom Scrotal Recall and the movie Song One, amongst other roles), he played one new, as-of-yet untitled song mid-set. To round out his set, he was joined by Laura Marling for their duet on his song “The Water” (easily one of the highlights of the night), and then the pair were joined by Hackman and by Marling’s band to perform a raucous sing-along of “Tickle Me Pink” from Flynn’s debut album A Larum.

Johnny Flynn warming up the crowd for Laura Marling at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC - 7/31/15 (photo by Matt Condon)

Then it came time for the main act. Laura Marling may only be 25 years old, but her growth as a songwriter over the course of her five albums so far belies a skill beyond her years. When Marling last came to the District in 2013, she appeared as a solo performer. This time, she had most of a band backing her –guitarist Peter Randall got held up in the visa process, leaving her with Nick Pini on bass and Matt Ingram on drums. For the most part, this additional instrumentation was used sparingly, serving more to emphasize Marling’s own parts, and only taking the forefront (and getting loud) on occasion.

Marling opened the show with the extended song cycle from the beginning of 2013’s Once I Was An Eagle – “Take the Night Off,” “I Was An Eagle,” “You Know,” and “Breathe,” four songs which meld together to form what feels like one extended piece – followed by several tracks (“David,” “Howl,” and “Walk Alone”) from Short Movie. (“David,” like “Daisy” which appeared later in the set, was originally released on a bonus 7” with pre-orders. Both tracks have subsequently appeared on the digital only “Director’s Cut” of the album.) For several songs – a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” and early songs “Alas I Cannot Swim” and “Failure” – she performed solo, with many in the audience singing along to the latter tracks. While these songs feel almost primitive compared to Marling’s more recent work, it was clear that many in the audience still connected to them. The band returned for several songs, new (“How Can I”) and old (“Sophia,” “I Speak Because I Can,” and “Rambling Man”).

Explaining that she doesn’t do encores (“we’re too English and awkward”), she invited Flynn and Hackman back to the stage for a cover of Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work.” Though it was clearly the least-polished part of the night, it proved to be a fun ending for a serious artist who perhaps doesn’t want to be taken too seriously.

All photos by Matt Condon. Click to embiggen.