There’s a beautiful kind of kismet in the fact that Arlo Parks‘ performance at The Steel Yard falls on the weekend of both Mental Health Awareness and National Coming Out day, given her ambassadorship for self-acceptance in both areas. You get the sense that the empathetic musician would get quite the kick out of fans watching from home in an act of self-care, curled up under duvets with warm cups of tea.
In fact, she’s starting to show signs of having this pop star thing on lock – allowing her band to play a slick intro before she bounds on ‘stage’; not overthinking the slight hip-hop swag that inspires her to shuffle her back foot to give the laconic ‘George’ a particular sense of cool.
Her band, you sense, will be her absolute making. Parks’ dusky voice has the sort of soothing quality that makes Audible pull out the chequebook, but it is truly fascinating to hear how each of her relatively downbeat songs takes on new qualities in the hands of this group. With jazzy live bass, guitar and drums, melancholy moments become proper feet-wrigglers. ‘Romantic Garbage’ shares an atmospheric parentage with her beloved King Krule, but guitarist Alex Blake gives it a reggae lilt that could sustain a Rihanna mash-up. If you were in any question of depression-themed breakout hit ‘Black Dog’s vital status, you should be referred to the extended outro Blake peels off with face-scrunching euphoria, proffering a light at the end of the song’s dark tunnel.
The outing of a brand new track offers further evidence at sonic expansion. Parks has always been witty, but the ’90s-sounding ‘Punk Rock Eyes’ finds her pulling no punches with a cutting critique of sadboi beta-male misogyny: “You buy me tulips at the discount price… You think you’re Morrissey / Writing songs and doing a little too much speed”. Tempering her moment of sass, she pulls out a nondescript dark notebook with well-ruffled pages, sharing two poems that muse on gratitude and mindfulness and the value of the present, all themes that imbue her music with kindness.
This multiplicity will make Arlo Parks a true star. Though her work may be undeniably mellow, it is peppered throughout with unpredictable magic; smooth rounds of beach sea glass just waiting to be taken home and coveted as personal talismans. “Having just turned 20, there’s a lot of processing to do..,” she ponders by way of a closer. “Even in the course of this show, I feel energised, like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.”
Arlo Parks played:
‘Punk Rock Eyes’
‘2 Mint Teas’ (Spoken Word)
‘Salt Tears’ (Spoken Word)