A small art-house venue on a Sunday evening is a far cry from the concert hall tours that Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay, the co-creators of LUMP, are used to playing. The small stage, however, is packed with instruments, pedals and wires, leaving just enough space for its four members to balance.
The crowd that has gathered is also an interesting reflection of LUMP’s appeal. Parents stand and chat idly with their adolescent children whilst a group of university students mingle near the edge of the stage. The cross-generational appeal of Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay’s collaborative project is a testament to both their talents.
On stage the two are binary presences. Lindsay bounds about the stage with a joyous child-like glee, jumping from guitar to pedal to synth in a frenzied jig, whilst Marling, shy and quiet, curls over her guitar, face turned from the lights, emerging only to gaze across the waiting heads as she sings. Yet their talents compliment one another in their extremities – Lindsay, who took the lead on the musical arrangement of the project, with his bouncing bass lines and multi-layered percussion and pedals, elevates Marling’s ethereal vocals.
Lyrically the album echoes the stark honesty of Father John Misty’s writing on his Pure Comedy album. Each song is a post-truth soliloquy, comprised of cutting social commentary veiled beneath haunting vocal melodies. Like Josh Tillman, Marling has a way with words that is quick and sharply accurate, here she is an old soul who has lost patience with the ‘contemporary’ age as, in ‘Hand Hold Hero’, she snarls, “Oh my back to the wall, better that than trip and fall,/Money didn’t buy you nothing at all except a ball for your chain.”
Gone are Marling’s timeless folk references to mythical beasts and Grecian muses from her solo albums; this is a record clearly positioned in a specific time and place – a disillusioned present.
Marling has spoken herself of the influence of Edward Lear and his surrealist, nonsensical poetry in the writing of LUMP, itself a formless, often confusing musical creation. But Lear’s influence seemingly goes beyond the topsy-turvy musical persona Marling and Lindsay have created. As Adam Gopnik wrote of Lear in an article for The New Yorker earlier last month, Lear’s parodies, much like Marling’s, act as vehicles for sharp ideas about contemporary life.
The show itself runs without bells or whistles; the album is played in full in chronological order, each song floating into the next, the transitions close to seamless. This stripped back format is not for everyone. Certainly there are a few earnest grumbles as the band exits the stage with a small wave and a smile. In today’s world it is seemingly not enough ‘to simply play the songs’: modern music demands that musicians sell themselves as part and parcel of the experience. It is this ‘commodification of curated public personas’, and I suppose, the insanity of the notion of “fame”, which Marling critiques so articulately in her songs. However, the simple play-by-play format also emphasises the nature of the project, the music of which, both Lindsay and Marling have stated, is independent of themselves as artists.
Returning home in the balmy evening, I put on the record, hoping to recapture the evening as I open my laptop to write. There is, however, something, strange, alluring and hypnotic, captured in LUMP’s live performance, which, search as I might, cannot be found between the sleeves of the record. Far from disappointing, this feels fitting as I cast my mind back to that small, darkened hall. Call me a nostalgic romantic, but it feels apt that the atmosphere of the evening cannot be replicated in my kitchen. I’ll take that as the message of LUMP; our obsession with recording, replicating and marketing every experience is, seemingly the “curse of the contemporary”.
Image: Mathew Parri and Esteban Diacono