Live Review: Laura Marling, DD Dumbo

21 October 2015 | 1:19 pm | Stephanie Liew

"The sound is utterly pristine, and elevates Marling's vocals above everything else — every waver of her vibrato reaches the corners of the cavernous space."

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DD Dumbo aka Oliver Hugh Perry warms up the slowly filling hall with his intelligent loop-rock, taking influence from the music of Tuvan and Tanzanian cultures, to pick a couple of examples. An easy comparison would be Dirty Projectors — although Perry's music is much more minimalistic, while also being less experimental and less accessible. First, he shows us how much one man can do with a guitar, two drums, a flute, a trumpet and the magic of pedals. After the stripped-back In The Water — "a cheesy one" about a middle class whale on its deathbed, reflecting back on its affluent existence (to paraphrase Perry) — however, we begin to see the limitations of such a form. It's impressive, but not necessarily riveting.

Laura Marling arrives on stage with a double-bassist and drummer, and they kick off with the first four tracks from Marling's 2013 fourth album, Once I Was An Eagle: Take The Night Off, I Was An Eagle, You Know and Breathe, all flowing into one another like a single four-part song. With the show being held as part of Melbourne Festival, Hamer Hall proves to be a perfect setting. The sound is utterly pristine, and elevates Marling's vocals above everything else — every waver of her vibrato reaches the corners of the cavernous space.

Marling switches her electric guitar for an acoustic one heading into Short Movie, and gives her arm a workout sliding up and down those frets. She spits out venom — "It's a short fucking movie, man," — before going cold in Master Hunter. Night After Night to A Creature I Don't Know sees the mood turn tragic, Marling fingerpicking in 3/4 while a spotlight casts the double-bassist's silhouette on the back of the stage and blue rays stream down emphatically. It's a tear/shiver-inducing moment.

Apparently that's all the "intense" stuff out of the way, Marling announces, properly addressing us for the first time. Thankfully she continues to banter between songs from there on in, delighting the audience with her dry humour. She falters on a line in old favourite Ghosts, asking the audience for a correction, and her charming slip-up gets us on side even more. While Marling's style and sound has undoubtedly changed — not drastically; more of a subtle maturation — her varied set tonight makes it clear that all her songs have a timeless quality, which is particularly exemplified by Goodbye England (Covered In Snow). These songs are stories best told face-to-face. Marling's best stances involve throwing her head back and fixing a stare on some distant point on the ceiling, and leaning into her guitar as she focuses on high frets or a tricky riff, jaw clenched.

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The backing musicians perform brilliantly all night, supporting Marling's voice and guitar. They excel during I Feel Your Love, contributing harmonies in the final quarter to make hairs stand on end. Before we know it, the groovy Salinas (cue: disco ball glitter lights), the upbeat change at the end of Sophia, the rollicking fierceness of Rambling Man, and the pining of How Can I deliver us out into the night. Marling's exquisite live vocals — expertly flicking from low to high, from sweet to rough — ring on in our ears.