If there’s any justice in the world, Marika Hackman would be playing on your radio, and you would be basking in perpetual awe at the power of her captivating dark-folk songs. As it is though, it was The Bodega, not Madison Square Garden that Hackman was booked to play on a Saturday night, though that did little to adjust my expectations. Fresh off the release of her debut album We Slept At Last, I was palpably aware of the treat that lay in store for us in a congested The Bodega on a weekend evening.
First the support; Local folk duo Molly and Jack acquitted themselves well, their stripped-down set built on engaging vocal harmonies and airy guitar licks. The second act to play, Charlotte Carpenter, also played an acoustic set. Her style reminded me of the countrified aesthetic of American acts like Jess Williamson, and the bent guitar notes and hushed tones of Carpenter’s voice matched well – songs like ‘Whole’ and ‘If I Could’ were particular highlights. There was little time for talk in Carpenter’s set, and perhaps that was for good reason; when she took the time to thank the audience and the other artists on the bill it detracted from the atmosphere, and the final song suffered as a result. On the whole though, both Carpenter and Molly and Jack performed well.
Yet despite how well the support performed, it was Hackman that we had come to see. She has talked in interviews about wanting to continuously experiment with her work, so it probably isn’t surprising that what we saw on Saturday was markedly different to the fairly energetic full-band set she played last November. Right from the opening rendition of ‘Retina Television’ it was clear that this would be a step up from the support, despite how well they played. Hackman’s music has an expressive quality that almost defies categorisation, even considering the relatively simple one guitar/one voice set up, and the stripped back set allowed the slower numbers to really shine here. Cuts like ‘Drown’ and ‘Animal Fear’ from the new record were well-received, and ‘Cinnamon’ provided a fitting climax to the set.
While there was no faulting the music or Hackman’s performance here, which were routinely excellent, there were one or two moments that prevented the evening from being a truly great experience. At times Hackman’s performance was blighted by a particularly bothersome fly, and though she soldiered on with the performance she was clearly distracted at times by the unwanted presence. And while the continued pursuit of new and more interesting ways of performing is admirable, there were one or two moments when the set could have done with one or two upbeat numbers (like the recorded versions of ‘Deep Green’ or ‘Bath is Black’) to mix it up a bit, particularly given the relative similarity of tone provided by the support acts.
In all though Hackman’s performance was an excellent showcase of her music, her performance tonight only adding fuel to the rumours of a Glastonbury headline slot in 2016. And if that idea is patently absurd, on tonight’s evidence the idea of Hackman gracing UK radio playlists before too long really isn’t.
For more from Impact Music, check us out on Twitter