[This fragment is available in an audio version.]
Last night I enjoyed a concert by Larkin Poe (Wikipedia) at Vancouver’s excellent Commodore Ballroom. The music was just fine — more on that below — but mostly I’m here to think out loud about how Rock & Roll embeds into the wider world in 2023.
If you visited the links above, you already know that Larkin Poe is anchored by sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell; Rebecca sings lead and plays normal electric guitar; Megan also sings and plays what they call a lap steel guitar, but it looks weird to me (there are pictures below) and the Internet doesn’t seem to know what precisely it is. In action it sounds like regular electric slide. They’re in their thirties.
Popular music? · The Commodore was packed. It cheers me up that traditional rootsy guitar-boogie still has a substantial audience. The notion that a Rock act might lead the streaming charts, or play the Super Bowl halftime, or generally matter to the cultural mainstream, feels quaint in 2023. (But let’s not forget Måneskin’s Eurovision 2021 victory.)
It also pleased me that the crowd was generously supplied both with fresh-faced kids and grizzled greybeards. And that the performers were thirty years younger than me; I count on being able to listen to new Rock music into my grave.
And on this music being played hard and loud, with any luck, long after I’m forgotten.
Drama · As the band was swinging into the first song, Rebecca was looking into the front row of the crowd and said something like “You OK, dude?” Then she called the band to a halt and yelled “Security! There’s this guy roughing up women down here in front; get him out!” and sure enough two burly security guys extracted him (with considerable difficulty) and dragged him away.
It’s hard to stop a rock band with forward momentum; I remember the famous Altamont video, Mick Jagger yelling “Keith, stop, Keith, KEITH!” because murder was happening before his eyes.
Love · Larkin Poe bring a lot of naked emotion to their set; one song was about their grandfather’s mental-health issues, and a lot of the between-songs patter was about how we really have to be kind to each other, more than ever in these troubled times, one time with a callout to that start-of-show incident.
I think the not-terribly-common combination of being women-centered and playing uncompromising hardasss electric music empowers them to open up emotionally in a way that might be harder for other gender/genre combinations. I enjoyed it.
The music · Rebecca is a fine Rock singer and both sisters are really accomplished guitarists. I enjoyed the songs they wrote themselves, in particular She’s a Self-Made Man and Bad Spell, the latter introduced as a reply to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ I Put a Spell On You (that link is to a blog fragment about that song).
But probably my favorite number was their cover of Son Volt’s Preachin’ Blues, because of Megan’s big intro, the knife-edged scream coming off that guitar of hers made my whole body shiver. They also do a number called Wanted Woman which is a somewhat-twisted cover of AC/DC’s Wanted Man. It was great.
I was a little disappointed they didn’t do an acoustic set or even song. Like a whole bunch of other people, I became a Larkin Poe fan during the pandemic because of the Larkin Poe Cover Channel, just the two sisters sitting side-by-side and covering classics, doing a really great job on every one I bothered to watch. Follow that link and you’ll be rolling your eyes at the song selection. I recommend The Peter Gunn Theme and Day Tripper and Sharp Dressed Man and (OMG have a hanky handy) Wicked Game.
They were apparently using an excellent microphone because those covers are just wonderful listening, especially the capture of the slide-guitar grain, like you’re almost never gonna get from a live PA. Um, maybe don’t visit that channel just now if you have things you need to get accomplished in the next hour or so?
Sound! · While the live sound didn’t capture the texture and detail of a good mike pointed at intimate acoustic music, it was really freaking awesome. Which it isn’t always in the Commodore (cough Jack White cough).
The vocals were crystal clear, you could easily understand the lyrics, the guitars howled and roared but didn’t have that painful high-end scrape; you could always tell who was playing just by the tone. Megan gets most of the soloing spotlight with that heavy slide sound, but Rebecca played some pretty great breaks too, particularly tasty stuff down in the middle and bottom of the instrument’s range, in no hurry to go up the neck for the high notes.
I thought maybe the most impressive thing was the great song arrangements. It wasn’t just verse / chorus / verse / chorus / solo / bridge / verse / chorus; there were lots of opportunities for double breaks and band-dropouts and big-chord frenzies and so on, no two songs the same. Best thing was when they telegraphed “Big riff coming in 3-2-1” and oooh, they were some nice riffs.
Commercial · On Larkin Poe’s most recent album Blood Harmony there’s a nice song called Southern Comfort. The drink is sponsoring the tour, and before they played the song they did a little commercial; one of the roadies came on stage with a tray, little shot glasses for each band member, so they thanked the brand for the sponsorship and drank a toast to the crowd. (Just “Cheers!”)
That’s a little weird, but it was short and unobtrusive and it’s hard to be against anything that gets musicians paid. If I were in the band I’d have told them to fill the glass with water because I loathe that stuff, it’s awful.
Health · I attended the show by myself (my usual date under the weather) so I went down by the front of the stage. I was wearing a mask, like… maybe 2% of the others.
People, what is wrong with you?! We’re losing our elders and the most vulnerable to Covid at a horrifying rate, the prevalence of Long Covid is creeping up, and we keep hearing bad news about all sorts of nasty permanent damage the virus can do, including to your brain. So you’re going to go stand among hundreds of strangers and leap around, breathing heavily, with no mask on? I just don’t get it.
I know, it’s only rock and roll… · But I like it, like it, yes I do.