Live music: Laura Marling at the Olympia, Dublin

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Laura Marling sported a new haircut and a new sound at her first Irish concert in more than two years. A pixie crop-cut had replaced her flowing tresses while her songs, now bolstered with electric guitar, were twitchy and plaintive, Marling’s shrapnel quaver underpinned by a nervous urgency.

The changes were more than aesthetic choices. Marling has gone through a proper long dark night of the soul and at one point contemplated turning her back on music. The catalyst for her mini-meltdown was an unhappy romance, for which she upped sticks from london to Los Angeles. When the relationship came apart not long afterwards, she found herself marooned on the far side of the world, with no friends, her creative energies at an all time low.

Adrift for the first time in her adult life, this one time poster-child for the ‘nu folk’ scene blagged a job at a coffee shop, applied (unsuccessfully) for a place on a prestigious poetry course and recorded a still-born album which her producer straight-up told her wasn’t up to snuff. After a decade of near-constant success, it was her inauguration into the grown-up world of failure and disappointment and, by every account, it stung.

The psychic wounds she sustained were plainly discernible at the Olympia — as was the fact that they have begun to heal and she is now in a much healthier place. Flanked by her band, Marling seemed barely to move during the crepuscular ‘Howl’ and sounded transcendentally peeved on ‘You Know’, a showcase both for her finger-picking guitar and the bottomless ache in her voice. The pace increased occasionally and flashes of humour manifested now and then, especially on ‘Strange’, wherein she ranted about smug middle class certainties.

There was lots from new album Short Movie, a brisk, efficient suite that was the ironic end result of her spell of diminished confidence. As the self-assurance of youth has fallen away there is a sense that Marling may be about to transition into a more interesting artist. She displayed greater empathy than ever before at the Olympia and, far from a turn-off, it made her seem more human and vulnerable. A big, broken heart might be the making of her.

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