Singer  Laura Marling performs at the Kessler Theater in Dallas on Sunday, June, 21.

Singer Laura Marling performs at the Kessler Theater in Dallas on Sunday, June, 21.

Michael Reaves/Staff Photographer

When Laura Marling came on stage at the Kessler on Sunday in a floor-length white skirt with the stage lights setting her platinum pixie cut aglow, all whispers ground to a halt.

It was a voluntary but necessary silencing - the Kessler, for all its intimacy, is a venue so small that a purse unzipping feet away can be jarring.

Much of Marling's discography is about love, and indeed her audience gives it to her, unsolicited.

While she didn't deliver a flawless set - one song began off-key and, a few chords into another song, she began laughing - we knew with the kind of unshakeable confidence Marling inspires that the musician would come through. Perhaps it was the stripped-down set, just Marling's plaintive calls and a guitar. Or the deeply vulnerable lyrics. Or the self-contained way she held herself, the flitting of her fingers on the guitar, the pure voice made electric by sharp guitar riffs.

Perhaps it was her penchant for delightfully awkward conversation: "I sent a picture of this outfit to my friend, because I thought it was quite weird. And she said I looked like a psychedelic Bedouin," Marling said between songs. "Which I thought was pretty rad."

Singer Laura Marling performs at the Kessler Theater

Singer Laura Marling performs at the Kessler Theater

Michael Reaves/Staff Photographer

It has always been easy to mythologize the 23-year-old singer, whose music seems wiser than its years. At heart the Brit is the same folksy crooner who, upon first breaking onto the music scene, invited comparisons to Norah Jones. She's no longer the 16-year-old whom Myspace first made famous. Five albums into her career, she's a grown woman, and this is the Facebook generation.

Nonetheless, Marling's timeless charm defies the faddishness of social media. That was clear at the Kessler, where Marling performed a set of 16 songs spanning her whole discography.

If there any noticeable change in Marling's music, it is a heightened sense of perspective. One could never accuse the early work of being juvenile, but now more than ever her music bears the marks of an acute awareness of love's pitfalls.

Grief echoes in her voice's lowest registers. In "I Feel Your Love," she compares love surrounding her to an electric fence. There is a sharpness, a knowingness, to the words, "Keep your love around me so I can never know what's going on."

There is a cool impassion to the line she sings in "David": "Goodbye little girl, don't you forget, wasted love is a long regret," as if bidding adieu to the younger self that once sang the same song. Her voice takes on a heartbreaking universality in "Once" as she sings, "Once is enough to break you."

There are also flickers of mortality in the 2015 album Short Movie. "You look at me and said 'Look at the moon, take it in it will be gone soon,'" she sings in "How Can I."

Twenty-three is certainly not too young to look the end in the eye. But while she may sing about it, Marling won't allow despair to crystallize into permanence.

"How can I live without you," Marling sang, the final notes long and plaintive.

She may ask, but as the defiant chin indicates - she can answer that question herself.

Emma Court is a Dallas Morning News staff writer.

Set list:

Howl
David
Master Hunter
Pray for Me
Once
I Feel Your Love
Love Be Brave
Courting Blues (Burt Jansch cover)
Alas, I Cannot Swim
What He Wrote
Bleed Me Dry
Rambling Man
For the Sake of the Song (Towes Van Zandt cover)
Daisy
Saved These Words
How Can I

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