The video openings to latest (and extraordinary) single ‘Sophia’ and debut EP opener ‘New Romantic’ are identical: Laura Marling, sitting on a chair, singing about her love life with an eloquence and directness that act like a direct channel between you and her. The differences are more interesting than the similarities. In ‘New Romantic’ Marling is a lost teenager, searching for answers and at the end of the video she is in the same empty room she starts. 5 years on, in ‘Sophia’ she sings with bitter certainty, the surroundings slowly come into focus, she’s in a cathedral and she strides over to her band who unexpectedly launch into a country jaunt. Marling, the artist with two Mercury Prize nominations, (bizarrely) one Brit Award and several public breakups, is here, the lost child is dead and gone. She’s come a long way, and she has a long way to go. This is the artist who plays Manchestertonight. One who is in transition – A Creature I Don’t Know, as the title suggests, is an exploratory album that is as frustrating as it is searching and compelling. Yes, there’s something distinctly different, more confident, in this night’s performance than the previous two I have seen, but there’s also something less cogent and entrancing…What that is I cannot precisely put my finger on…

Maybe the difference is partly within me. I have had a wisdom tooth removed today, I can taste blood, the wrenched tooth is in my pocket and I’m doped up on tramadol. I feel “different” too i.e. mashed up. Worse still, I can’t drink, and I’m not used to watching musicians sober……

She opens with ‘I Was Just A Card’. It’s one of those songs on A Creature I Don’t Know that doesn’t really go anywhere, and worse still Marling’s voice is somewhat drowned out by the band and lost in the grandeur of the cathedral. Any Laura Marling fan will tell you that the sound of her voice is her best asset. Musicians will tell you that luck plays a big part in your career. Incidentally, Marling is obviously fascinated by the cathedral, her eyes tracing its arches, and playing to the crowd she notes that the cathedral is older than Liverpool.

Next up is ‘The Mews’ with the sublime(ly amusing) line, “Don’t you be scared of me, I’m nothing but the beast, and I’ll call you when I need to feast.” Ha! And then ‘Ghosts’, the opener from her debut album ‘Alas, I Cannot Swim’, that for me first set her apart and above the competition.

At this point my girlfriend nearly passes out, and I have to taker her outside for some fresh air and vomit…We come back in to find Marling alone on stage performing ‘GoodbyeEngland (Covered in Snow)’. It’s a beautiful moment. She is always at her best alone on stage just like at the beginnings of ‘New Romantic’ and ‘Sophia’. Then comes the brooding ‘Night Terror’ and her solo spot finishes with ‘Flicker and Fail’, which was, incidentally, written with her father. The best part of the show is over.

The band return and play ‘Sophia’, which sounds every bit at as good as it did on first listen. With the infinite darkness of a relationship drowning in negative external and internal influences – drugs, religion, women etc. – ‘My Manic and I’ remains her best song. ‘Rambling Man’ sounds better than it ever has, and ‘All My Rage’ finishes the sermon. Marling has already explained that there will be no encore – my respect for her increasing infinitely (encores are frustratingly false and disingenuous at the best of times) – and we push our way out of the cathedral into the dark night.

Marling is a brilliant performer, but something about tonight leaves me cold. I can’t help but feel that ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’ was something of a misstep, and creatively she is heading in the wrong direction. Perhaps it is because she is in transit and has not yet reached her next peak. We shall see…For now she still remains one of England’s most compelling artists.

Chris Gilliver

I started out writing for the Manchester Evening News as a freelance journalist back in 2008. The idea that I would be given free access to music and gigs seemed somehow miraculous to me, and I proceeded to take full advantage of the situation. When the M.E.N. decided to constrict its coverage to only the very biggest bands, Simon Poole approached me with a plan to make sure that all the very talented musicians of this world that pass through and/or live in Manchester would not go unnoticed. As the New Releases editor here at Silent Radio Towers, it remains my proud duty to cast a critical eye over the music and reviews that come my way in a manner that is both supportive and fair. Above all, I strive to write as entertainingly possible. Favourite musicians include the Pixies, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Mercury Rev, Os Mutantes, The Knife, Beach House etc etc. I'm a firm believer that all genres (except nu-metal) contain music of great quality...