March 3rd | Rough Trade
Photos: Jonny Nolan
The definition of youth is often cited as “those who are too old to be children and too inexperienced to be adults.” It couldn’t be further from the truth with the bright new talent that is Arlo Parks. At just nineteen years old, she has racked up millions of streams from her delicately-told tales of her vast experiences of frayed relationships and getting to know her emotions.
We began at Rough Trade with ‘Paperbacks’. It propelled us into a lengthy instrumental intro that eventually led to Parks bounding onstage. Reducing her energy to a restrained swagger, she looked knowingly to the crowd.
Taking a second to comment on her first show that’s entirely her own being sold out, she told everyone, “I feel having a room full of people here is so special.” It then prompted her very own ‘Keanu Reeves XboxE3′ moment, as a wholesome heckler shouted, “What you’re doing is special!” A shy grin spread as she laughed and thanked him, but he was right. The lack of black queer women talking about their feelings in music is surprising, but artists like Janelle Monae, Syd and Parks are paving the way to a more welcoming world.
Parks’ breakthrough hit, ‘Cola’ is based on the colour of a lover’s eyes, but goes shades deeper than that. Not even her beautiful vocals can hide the pain when she delivers the line, “So take your orchids elsewhere, elsewhere. I loved you to death and now I don’t really care.” This devastating blow was born from betrayal and she dedicated it to “pretty people who think flowers can fix everything.”
Alas they can’t. The chorus echoed as the whole room serenaded from “take your orchids” onwards. She transforms her most painful moments into beautiful ones, because here she is in control of those deeply personal experiences – whether they be heartbreak, jealousy or grief.
There were a couple of unreleased tracks that showed different sides of Parks. ‘Punk Rockers’ sounded inspired by her times listening to Janis Joplin and The Stooges and boosted by a gloomy bassline that faintly recalled Pixies’ very own ‘Where Is My Mind?’ But don’t think this comparison takes anything away from the London poet; this was her very own rock and roll moment. It was, no doubt, an interesting addition to her extensive discography and added a certain edge to her character. Another new cut was her way of coping with grieving for a friend – ‘Black Dog’ – that stretched her angelic voice into new territory.
Mental health is a hot topic right now, so ‘Angel’s Song’ was a welcome tonic in an age where the simple phrase “Be Kind” is more relevant than ever. “This sadness ain’t you” is not just a great one-liner but an imperative statement that needs to be shared with the world more frequently.
As we came to the end of the evening with ‘Sophie’, Parks lit up as her band riffed out for the well-received closer. Every time she closed her eyes and nodded along to the music, you couldn’t tell whether it was getting too personal or she just couldn’t believe where she was. Yet no matter how tough the subject matter in her songs, we could consider Arlo Parks to be the unofficial champion of cheering up her very own super-sad generation.
See the video for ‘Eugene’ here: