Monday, September 22, 2008

Laura Marling / Johnny Flynn / Mumford and Sons @ 400 Bar 9/21/08

Laura Marling in Minneapolis 9/21/08

Most of Minneapolis missed out on seeing the future of British folk music at the 400 Bar last evening, with only around 75 people witnessing the wonderful triple bill of Mumford and Sons, Laura Marling, and Johnny Flynn. It’s a shame, because all three young bands bring a fresh and youthful perspective to the singer/songwriter genre, and if this show took place in England, they would have sold out a much larger venue than the 400 Bar. But it was a nice, intimate show that really showcased three talented songwriters with wonderful voices.
Laura Marling in Minneapolis 9/21/08
I was surprised to see Laura Marling and her band setting up next, for I thought her recent Mercury Music Prize nomination for her album “Alas I Cannot Swim,” would entitle her to be the headliner. But the unassuming 18 year old settled in quickly, opening her set with the evocative ‘Ghosts,’ that was augmented quite well by her full band behind her (as opposed to the sparse solo acoustic version I saw her play on Jools Holland.) She has a true gift as both a songwriter and a singer, and both of her gifts were on full display last evening, with her beguiling voice singing the intricate and often heartbreaking lyrics of lost love and exploration that belies her young age. She has a rather diminutive stage presence (standing cross- legged and rarely looking directly at the audience), but her full, resonant voice more than makes up for her timidity, filling the club with the sounds of her sorrow and her dreams.
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Laura Marling in Minneapolis 9/21/08Laura Marling in Minneapolis 9/21/08
She also played two lovely new songs for us last evening, 'Rambling Man,' and 'Alpha Shallows,' (although she joked with the crowd, declaring that “All these songs are new to you, really.”) And I’m sure there were a few people in the audience that were discovering Laura Marling last night, being treated to the beauty of her songs for the first time. ‘My Manic And I,’ is as dynamic and complete a song as I’ve heard recently, a unique study of human relationships, depression, God, and love, all in a three and a half minute pop-song that was the highlight of the set for me. Laura truly is a singular musical talent, who hopefully will continue to flourish for years to come within the confines of the music industry, providing us with many more albums filled with her distinctive music and insightful lyrics, and hopefully more shows in Minneapolis, that ought to be better attended as her name recognition grows.

Johnny Flynn
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Johnny Flynn and his band, ‘The Sussex Wit,’ have songs that should be (and probably are, in his native England) pub anthems, and the sparsely filled and relatively quiet 400 Bar didn’t necessarily suit his rousing songs. But again, we were treated to an intimate glimpse of a songwriter whose lyrics are filled with a depth of knowledge and insight that is at odds with his young age (only 25,) and he and his seasoned band rolled through most of the tracks from his excellent album, ‘A Larum,’ in a stirring set. His songs and lyrics are steeped in Englishness, causing me to think of, and miss, jolly ole’ England throughout his set.
The electric banjo once again was featured prominently in the music, as was the cello, violin, and trumpet, and those instruments added to the festive but mournful nature of the songs. ‘Brown Trout Blues,’ was a despondent, melancholy highlight of the set, with lyrics about being happy with who we are, even when that is not enough for the people we love. ‘Cold Bread,’ was another standout of the set that would have been better served with a Saturday night whiskey-soaked crowd (as opposed to a rather subdued Sunday night crowd) that could have turned this into the rousing sing-along that the song deserves and probably is with an audience more familiar with his music and lyrics. But it was an altogether engaging set, filled with the feisty, spirited songs of Johnny Flynn, a talented songwriter that we should hear more from in the future.
Mumford and Sons

First on the bill and last but not least was Mumford and Sons, fronted by Marcus Mumford (who would later play drums for Laura Marling’s band). They played a lively, spirited set despite the fact that there were only a small handful of fans in attendance. A few of their early jokes fell a little flat on the quiet crowd (one was about how the haven’t heard anyone say ‘Yah,’ in Minnesota yet) causing the electric banjo player to kiddingly remark that “This is as far away from home I’ve ever been. And the farthest away from home I’ve ever felt.” But the crowd and the band warmed to each other nicely, and the group really hit their stride on tracks like the jubilant ‘Roll Away Your Stone,’ and the sorrowful ‘White Blank Page.’ They played predominantly without drums (save for a bass drum that the singer occasionally kicked while playing), and that allowed for the strong vocals of Marcus to shine through, setting a wonderful opening tone on a night filled with distinctive and rich voices.

It was a great triple-bill last evening at the 400 Bar, one where the bands were all friends, shared instruments and even swapped performers, and all of the acts displayed their own unique and fresh talents that will take the future of British music in whatever direction they choose. It’s just too bad more people weren’t there to witness it. But those of us that were will consider ourselves lucky to have seen the start of what should be flourishing musical careers from all of the artists on stage last night.

Erik T.

For More photos check out My Flickr Page

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