Photo credit: Jamie MacMillan/Clash Music.
Marika Hackman has come a long way since the first time I saw her play when she first started gigging as a support act for Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s After the Rain tour. The folky teenager in a tie dye t-shirt with long blonde surfer hair is long gone. Last week at Thekla, Marika graced the stage with the presence of a sultry goddess – a new look perfectly in-keeping with her move into a bold new style of music.
When she first walked out on the stage to an eager crowd she gave a focused, smoldering stare towards the back of the packed room, making everyone feel as if she was staring directly into their own eyes and aiming her words at you individually. Her stage presence is captivating and she is able to hold her own without any embellishments. Under the sharp lighting and in front of letters that spell out her name, her cutting ethereal vocals are able to engulf the room effortlessly. The hesitancy she shows towards making this into any kind of spectacle only serves to make her appear all the more alluring.
The 90s grunge vibe and transfixing gaze channels the multitude of rock bands such as Nirvana that have inspired the new album. These influences have lead to an ability to perform seductively whilst still remaining authentic, comparable to the stage presence of Wolf Alice’s frontwoman, Ellie Roswell. But she breaks character in between songs, offering a glimpse of her wit and humour. Marika isn’t afraid to laugh at herself and makes jokes at the expense of the crowd and herself – struggling to hold herself from back laughing as her voice cracks into the microphone. Her onstage personality gives off a warmth that shines through the crowd and these intervals of comic relief break up the intensity of her sets perfectly, giving everyone in the crowd a moment to come back down to earth again.
Marika’s audience is very diverse; ranging from older fans that are probably drawn to her older folky tunes, to a younger crowd more eager to hear the heavy guitar and satirical lyrics of tracks such as Boyfriend. Yet only a few had the energy to sing along and the crowd remained tame and relaxed throughout.
The set-list mainly focussed on the grungy rock from the new album creating a dark, captivating atmosphere. Hackman clearly wants to exhibit her ability to switch between loud guitar riffs and the soft folky ballads she became known for in the first album. The new material was delivered with a sexual sultriness and broken up by the delicateness of tracks such as Ophelia. But often she sings the old songs with a new twist – transforming them to fit into a realm of indie folk and she pulls it off effortlessly. The set transitions well between break up songs oozing with angst, heavier rock songs taking the energy levels up a notch and she soaks everyone in sexuality with the lyrics of songs such as Violet.
There’s no real effort on Marika’s part to hype up the crowd though, it’s almost as if you’re watching a good mate play a set at the pub due to the intimate mood she emanates. It could be construed as a lack of professionalism with how casual and relaxed she seems, but I doubt fans of her music would expect a gig with anymore energy than what she provides. She is at ease with the relationship she has with the audience and her relaxed performances come naturally to her, comfortable in sharing the darkest parts of her mind that resonate with you long after she’s stopped playing.
This tour of the new album is the perfect way for her to break out of her musical mould and prove she is destined and capable of a lot more than just typical folk music.