You never would have guessed that last Sunday was Billie Marten’s first time in Philadelphia. When the bartender dropped a glass during her quiet but no less stirring set at the Foundry, in true Philly fashion, Marten stopped mid-song just to break their balls, albeit very politely. This might be her first headlining tour in America, but she knows how to play to a crowd.
After all, Billie Marten is her stage name. Marten was born Isabella Sophie Tweedle, a name so unbelievably British that it’s only fitting she’s from Ripon, one of the teensiest cities in all of England. But while only 24 years old, Marten has been in the spotlight for half of her life. Listening to Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell at a tender age led to trying her own hand at filigreed finger-plucking, though it wasn’t until she covered her future tourmate for a local YouTube channel that her career really took off. By the time she finished secondary school, she’d already graduated from an indie to the majors.
As you can see, even as a brace-faced tween, Marten sounded like she belonged on the playlist at your neighborhood coffee house. Her voice is soft and sweet, like a bruised peach. She does write a lot about nature. But seeing the forest for the trees is what makes Marten stand out among other contemporary indie-folk. Her songs address seasonal depression, climate change, toxic masculinity, and those were the ones people wanted to hear on Sunday when Marten opened up the middle of her setlist to requests.
It’s hard to remember, now that we’re smothered in smoke from the Canadian wildfires, but a thunderstorm hit Philly an hour before Marten took the stage. That might’ve put a damper on the turnout. I saw plenty of people post their tickets online at the last minute, but those of us who did weather the storm were treated to old favorites like “La Lune”, which glimmered with all the majesty of a shipwreck. We even got a crash course in how to sing the woozy harmonies that slosh and bubble over “Liquid Love”.
But it was Marten’s new album that truly popped. Drop Cherries was recorded live to tape, a back-to-basics approach that’s carried over into the production of this tour. There are no backing tracks, no elaborate staging or fancy-pants visualizers. All that was needed for “Just Us” to come ambling out the gate were some bluish lights and the acoustic rattle of few loosely strung chords.
Some of her new songs involve instruments that aren’t so easy to cram into a tour bus: double bass, french horn, a Swedish piano from the 1930s. But Marten didn’t need any of those flourishes either, thanks to her band. The plucky, swooning “God Above” landed with added thump from Andrew Maguire’s kick drum, while Olivia Kaplan coaxed out subtle riffs that deepened the gravitational sway of “This Is How We Move”.
Kaplan opened the show with songs off her latest album, which was celebrating its second birthday. I hadn’t heard of Kaplan, but her keen observations about love in the San Fernando Valley set the right tone. That wasn’t lost on Marten. Toward the end of the night, she surprised her guitarist with a brownie cake.
That cake might’ve looked adorably lumpy. But the small gesture struck me as a charming insight into why Drop Cherries resonates. It’s not just her most mature or refined or even most confident album (though it is all those things). It’s also her happiest. Even a sad waltz of a song like “Willow” — which wilts in the face of all the ways distance keeps us from those we hold close — is steadied by the hope and stability that she’s found in her relationship back home.
Before Marten played “Willow”, she asked if anyone else was in love with someone who was far away. She searched the audience in vain, before noticing one shyly raised hand.
“Ah, just one?” she asked, smiling in recognition. “This song’s for you”.
- This Is How We Move
- Just Us
- Cartoon People
- God Above
- Acid Tooth
- Cursive (solo)
- Vanilla Baby (solo)
- Milk & Honey (solo)
- Fish (solo)
- Human Replacement
- La Lune
- Liquid Love
- I Can’t Get My Head Around You
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