Live Report: Arlo Parks at Somerset House

Sunflowers sway to the beat of a soulful pop repertoire…

Basking in the muggy midsummer sundown, yesterday’s crowd were entranced by a soulful haze reverberating gloriously around Somerset House’s 18th-century courtyard. The stage adorned with bouquets of symbolic sunflowers, and a sense of cathartic release drawing ever-closer, a young contemplative songwriter appears to remind us all the virtue of calm.

Arlo Parks has seen a monumental artistic rise over the past few years, her debut album ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’ winning the Mercury Music Prize in 2021, and through her radiant pop poetry has settled comfortably into the public consciousness. If this wasn’t already apparent, the glowing enthusiasm of last night’s audience was a sure reminder.

After an initial supporting set of indie tunes from New-Zealander Molly Payton, Arlo’s sevenfold band reached their onstage stations and tore into a satisfyingly lengthy instrumental opener; the recognisable rise and fall of ‘Green Eyes’ backed by deep orange visuals. When the artist herself appeared, the atmosphere at Somerset House was of admiration, elation, and a hunger for more heartwarming pop anthems to come.

Admitting to some nerves prior to her entrance, Arlo assured the crowd “I’m breathing a sigh of relief, I’m home,” and continued to perform selections from her enchanting repertoire. We see a playthrough of ‘Cola’, its hip-swaying groove backed by psychedelic floral imagery, into the flawlessly soulful ‘Caroline’, accompanied by unfettered chanting from the crowd.

The set from here onwards made time for more gentle numbers. ‘Bluish’ was introduced by Arlo as “a vulnerable song about feeling trapped in a relationship”, and ‘Black Dog’ as a song that empathises with anyone who has struggled in the past, including herself. It is this heart-on-sleeve honesty that best characterises Arlo Parks, and while these tunes capture this poignancy on record, the bold, defiant live representation of each song is what sees them truly soar.

As the evening draws to a close, she closes the set with vibrant renditions of crowd-pleasing ‘So Good’, the sunkissed mellow grooves of ‘Sophie’, characteristically anthemic ‘Hope’ and her recent single ‘Softly’. The sunflowers handed out to the audience prior to the show are held high and gently sway with each beat, the band amping up as each song meets its conclusion. Without an encore, Arlo Parks leaves the crowd desperately wanting more, but despite our chanting efforts to welcome her back on stage, we all head homewards, ready to collapse in sunbeams.

Words: Kieran Macdonald-Brown

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