When Laura Marling and Johnny Flynn say they enjoy touring together, it’s not just talk. The two first came to America in 2008 on a road trip celebrating the release of their individual debut albums (A Larum for him, Alas, I Cannot Swim for her). The opening act on that jaunt, highlighting the then-emerging U.K.’s roots revival scene, was another new band – Mumford and Sons.
We all know how it worked out for their once-support act but, as proven on a triple bill that pulled into the 9:30 Club on Friday night (July 31), Marling and Flynn are no slackers. Marling recently released her fifth album in seven years, Short Movie. Flynn released his third full-length, Country Mile in 2013 but may be better known in England as an actor – he’s done Shakespeare on stage, was lead in the British TV series “Scrotal Recall” (?!) and shared the big screen with Anne Hathaway in last year’s “Song One.”
A multi-instrumentalist who has composed music for films, television and theatre, Flynn also took time to mentor singer/songwriter, Marika Hackman. She was the first of the three acts to take the stage this night, starting off a musical mutual admiration society that made for a great show. (Alas, due to traffic delays, this reviewer missed all but one song of what appeared to be a solid and well-received set.)
Appearing solo, Flynn split his roughly 45-minute, nine-song set fairly equally among his three albums, and offered a new song (which apparently could be called “The Ocean Carries Me”) as well. He opened with “Lost and Found,” from 2010’s Been Listening and, as his penultimate song, invited Marling out to add beautiful harmonies to “The Water,” as she did on its studio take.
His last song brought Hackman, Marling and the latter’s rhythm section (stand-up bass and drums) to the stage for a rousing sing-along on the infectious “Tickle Me Pink.” As good as Flynn was as a solo act, bending notes on his guitar to underscore his unique mix of modern and olde English folk sounds, one hopes he comes back soon with a full band to truly show off his many talents.
At just 25, Marling is already one of the U.K.’s most respected singer/songwriters, building on the promise made when she won the UK’s GRAMMY-equivalent as Best British Female Artist in 2011. On this year’s Short Movie, she’s plugged in her guitar and taken her pastoral folk sound into rockier territory.
And so, this performance was a balance of quiet, confessional folk, drawing to mind the likes of Joni Mitchell (“How Can I”) and Leonard Cohen (“What He Wrote”), with harder moments that nodded to tough chick foremothers like Chrissie Hynde and Ani DiFranco (“Take the Night Off”). Her impressive guitar work, especially her finger picking, was displayed in a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind.”
Playing for nearly 90 minutes, after “I Speak Because I Can” (you can see the full set list), Marling told the crowd that there was no encore planned: “Not that we assume them, but we’re too English and awkward to pull them off.” After a take on “Rambling Man” that added more heft to the recorded version, she brought Flynn and Hackman out for an unusual cover choice – Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work” – on which he played trumpet and she traded verses with the headliner.
It was a joyous end to a night spent among talented friends.