Marissa Nadler deals in subtleties. On record her music is introspective, quiet and takes a while to sink in. In live performance, things remain much the same. With a stage bathed in unobtrusive deep purple hues, Nadler performed in a long black dress that allowed her to blend in with the low lighting, making the visual aspect her live performance as low-key as the music itself. Though quietly elegant, it did allow her as much of a degree of autonomy as it’s possible to have on stage, essentially making the music itself the focal point of her show. Though both sonically and visually slow-burning, if you allow yourself to become immersed in the sound Nadler creates, then her live show becomes a mesmerising experience.
Frequently cited by critics as “gothic folk”, Nadler’s plaintive, emotional voice and reverb-drenched guitar meld to create a sound that is neither Gothic nor Folk in the strict sense of the terms, but is indeed lyrically somewhat macabre and musically intimate enough that folk feels like the most accurate term. The majority of her hour and a half set is performed with a band; but both the set opener and encore are performed solo which gives those songs a sense of intimacy and honesty that certainly isn’t lost during the band sections of the show, but is partially traded for a sleeker, more lightly-rock oriented sound. Her band give able but mostly minimal performances – her rhythm section in particular don’t strain themselves at any point but anything showier would clutter Nadler’s songs.
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The bulk of her set focuses on her recently released album ‘Strangers’. One of the better records in an always enjoyable discography, ‘Strangers’ at times has a rockier sound than previous works and it’s during the performance of the titular ‘Strangers’ that the band drift away from the quasi-ambient atmosphere of the early set towards a livelier, heavier sound. Nadler supplies some surprisingly scuzzy lead guitar work on the song and the change of pace makes this song a set highlight.
Her 2014 record ‘July’ also gets a decent representation tonight, but otherwise her set is mostly absent of older songs. Some of her best material can be found on her more vintage works, so it’s a shame to see that era of her music under-represented tonight, with albums like 2009’s excellent ‘Little Hells’ being omitted entirely. The encore does bring two old favourites, however. ‘Diamond Heart’, from 2007’s ‘Songs III: Bird On The Water’ ranks among her best songs both lyrically and melodically; whilst ‘Fifty Five Falls’ from her 2004 debut ‘Ballads Of Living And Dying’ remains a firm fan favourite for very good reason.
A surprise came midway through her set in the form of a Neil Young cover, ‘Cortez The Killer’. Though perhaps not the most obvious of matches for Nadler’s voice, her take on the song worked really well and it would be great to see a studio version in the future. She also did a cover of Black Sabbath’s deeply melancholic ‘Solitude’. Nadler’s reinterpretation took the subdued original and created a dark atmosphere to rival the original, through the use of swelling walls of reverb drenched vocals. She captured the essence of the original whilst still putting her own spin on the song, and it ranks as one of her best covers.
Support came from harpist Mary Lattimore whose work, both as a solo artist and collaborator, has seen her collaborate with the likes of Meg Baird, Kurt Vile and Steve Gunn. Her performance tonight was a strikingly original and undeservedly under-attended set of psychedelic instrumental harp music, performed with a large echo box perched precariously on Lattimore’s knee.. Distinct, finely constructed melodies were picked out and then looped, with further melodies picked over the top of the first layer and so on. Lattimore created an immersive, experimental soundscape that really sounded like nothing I’ve heard before and, for that alone, she deserves to be heard. The fact that her music is actually every bit as enjoyable and interesting as it is original makes it all the more rewarding.