Laura Marling at the Berklee Performance Center

Folk musicians from all walks of life seem to have a particular charm. That moment when an emotional ballad ends and the coy soft-spoken words of the performer emerge between songs, one can’t help but wonder – where does that voice come from? English folk singer Laura Marling and opening act Willy Mason came to the Berklee Performance Center Friday night with plenty of that charm in tow. The audience ranged from college students to retirees, reflecting the universality of Marling’s work as the 22-year-old is often said to be wise beyond her years.

Willy Mason took the stage first in the beautiful Berklee seated theater. While big enough to feel important, the venue maintains a sense of intimacy as the room narrows towards the stage. Shortly after beginning, the audience was hooked by Mason’s “We Can Be Strong” as he strummed and echoed “waiting on tomorrow.” Mason had the theater laughing and smiling with ease between songs, commenting on his attempt to look professional – he found that packing suit jackets in backpacks was not a sound idea. Mason went on to apologize for his slow tuning process, but at least the seats were comfortable. Towards the end of his set, Mason really showed his pipes in “Pick-up Truck” where he sang of calling out to show oneself, to stand out, and call out he did.

After a brief intermission, the lights faded and Marling took the stage, let out a meek greeting, and began with “Rambling Man”. Accompanied by a full band of piano, cello, double bass, and banjo, Marling’s cries, “let it always be known that I was who I am,” encapsulated the room.  Shortly after, long-time fans of Marling were pleasantly surprised to hear “Alas I Cannot Swim” from her debut album from 2008. This track lit up the audience with smiles across the room as Marling sang, “There’s a house across the river/but alas I cannot swim/I’ll live my life regretting that I never jumped in.”

Marling’s set continued in a mix of tracks from both her sophomore release I Speak Because I Can and her latest A Creature I Don’t Know, including “Hope In the Air”, “I Was a Card”, and “The Muse”. Marling’s voice was deep and full, often shocking to be coming from her delicate frame. In combination with the rich and deep layers provided by the band, each song became a haunting soundscape to experience.

A stripped-down acoustic set with a solo Marling came in the middle of the night that included “Night After Night”, “Failure”, “Goodbye England”, a cover of Ryan Adams’ “My Winding Wheel”, and two brand new songs. With the stage to herself, Marling took several opportunities to tell anecdotes and speak to the audience. She recounted the day prior in Brooklyn when a stranger went out of his way to tap her on the shoulder and bless her after sneezing with headphones on. “That would never happen in England,” Marling said.

The band then joined Marling once again for the last few songs of the night including “Don’t Ask Me Why” and her latest single, “Sophia”. The set and evening came to a close with an impressive and hypnotic rendition of “I Speak Because I Can”. Marling took a bow to a standing ovation and as the house lights came on the audience reluctantly shuffled out with whispers of, “that was so beautiful, I’ve never felt like this before.”

By Jeeyoon Kim

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