Even bigger venues are beckoning
Joe Goggins
16:11 15th July 2021

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"I’ve never played an encore before, so I’m not even sure if I’m doing this right". It's an incredible statement from somebody who’s had a twelve months like Arlo Parks has. Like her contemporary and occasional collaborator, Phoebe Bridgers, the Londoner had the kind of breakout year that she probably only could have dreamed of, with one massive caveat: she couldn’t play live.

There were online streamed shows, professionally-shot video sessions, but this is her first time in front of a paying audience since her precocious debut, Collapsed in Sunbeams, delivered on the rich promise of the two EPs she dropped in 2019, and accordingly, met with rave reviews.

What Parks has demonstrated on record is a wisdom beyond her years (she’s still only 20) in her ability to cut to the core of what makes her generation tick, and a preternatural talent for blending her myriad influences on her own technicolor palette. The latter aspect of her musical personality is done vibrant justice tonight, with an airtight six-piece backing band bringing to life everything from the classic soul stylings of ‘Too Good’ and the softly reflective ‘Caroline’ — an indie pop breeze with twinkling synths — to the infectious R&B groove of ‘Hurt’, which opens the show. Later, for the final six tracks, she’s joined by a string section from Manchester’s own Royal Northern College of Music, who help kick things up another emotional gear; there’s a swooning take on the gorgeously contemplative ‘Eugene’, for instance, whilst ‘For Violet’ — perhaps the album’s outlier in terms of its heavy trip-hop influence — is suddenly imbued with a sense of the epic.

The question remained of how readily Parks the storyteller would translate to the stage. You’d have to concede that her style — razor-sharp lyrics, languidly delivered — would perhaps best be suited to more intimate surrounds than this cavernous converted train station, with a seated, socially distanced, largely-masked audience. Still, even with the crowd just a few hundred strong, it’s still surely the biggest she’s played to at a headline show, and she seems thoroughly comfortable: unhurried and unflustered, just as on record.

This bodes well, because considerable pressure comes with the ‘voice of her generation’ tag that she was slapped with whilst still a teenager: perhaps understandably, given how incisively tonight’s penultimate song, ‘Super Sad Generation’, takes the emotional temperature of herself and her peers. After all, the coolness of head that she made her calling card on Collapsed in Sunbeams is going to be crucial moving forwards; on tonight’s evidence, bigger venues than the ones she’ll tour later this year are beckoning, and soon.

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Photo: Priti Shikotra