As I paced the creaky boards backstage at the Athenaeum theatre, it seemed loud enough to interfere with the quiet performance of Laura Marling and her guitar, but I’m sure it was just my imagination. It is clear that the intricate interplay between Ms. Marling’s voice and her instrument and her finely crafted songs demand careful attention and a concert hall that delivers pristine acoustics.
That was the case last night at the underused (at least for modern music) Athenaeum theatre, where the music rang out clear as a bell for the rapt audience, many of whom demographically (and from a fashion standpoint) resembled the headliner. She was dressed in a simple black dress which enhanced her platinum blonde locks and wore some practical sneakers down below. Marling, an ace fingerpicker, used a different guitar for every song, strummed along by herself, but was also backed for much of the show by an excellent four-piece band that included a standup bass, cello, a drummer who also doubled on banjo and french horn and a keyboardist/guitarist. Everybody sang a little bit too and shared some Chicago memories during the introductions.
The music, best described as a baroque folk blend with elements of progressive space jazz in the manner of Rickie Lee Jones, Joni Mitchell, Laurie Anderson with a hint of Tim Buckley, Nick Drake and just a tad of Captain Beyond, drew heavily on Marling’s three albums, including her latest “A Creature I Don’t Know.” She also previewed some new material. The opener, Willie Mason, played a well-received set accompanying himself on the electric guitar and the radio DJ got a good hand, too.