Larkin Poe are not a household name in the UK. They don’t have any albums or singles in the UK charts and haven’t visited our shores for over two years. Yet as I walk past the Islington Assembly Hall on North London’s famous Upper Street a good half hour before their doors open for the evening, I see a queue of people snaking along the building on what is, the coldest night of this winter so far. And when I finally make it into the local authority building, I need to squeeze my way through a tightly packed sea of people to gain access to my photographing position. And that’s before Bristol-based Americana support act Foreign Affairs have taken to the stage.
The point of the story is that the UK has seriously missed catching the American Roots duo of Rebecca and Megan Lovell live, as is evident by tonight’s turnout and eagerness to get in as quickly and as closely as possible. And as the sisters finally walk out on stage, shrouded in shadows, huddled around a single mic with Rebecca brandishing her guitar and Megan her lap steel, they are met with cheers that almost drown out their subdued start with sophomore record Peach closer Tom Devil.
The pace picks up quickly with Summertime Sunset, the duo’s full band filling out the sound before Trouble In Mind gives us the first of only two throwbacks to 2016’s Reskinned – the record itself a re-worked version of their 2014 debut KIN. It’s hard not to be in awe of Megan, as she moves about the stage peering down at her lap steel which is throwing out some serious roots rock, the kind which is typically hard to come by in the UK.
“How are we doing tonight London?!” screams Rebecca “we are so excited to be here” she continues before going on to thank the Islington crowd for selling out their biggest headline show. A cover of legendary Bluesman Lead Belly’s famous Black Betty is up next getting the crowd clapping along from the outset, a studio version of the cover featured on Larkin Poe’s latest record Venom & Faith. “It has been far too long since we’ve been to come and see you guys, this is crazy” Rebecca says to the overwhelming rush of appreciation from the crowd. “We’ve release a record … or two since we last saw you” she corrects herself before going on to explain naming second record Peach after the official fruit of the sisters’ home state of Georgia before going on to introduce Peach cut Look Away as a song the sisters wrote together.
Describing Blues as a music coming out of The Delta and being the root of so many genres of music, Rebecca introduces another cover from Peach by another Blues great – Preachin’ Blues by Son House, written over 100 years ago, to further cheers from the North London crowd, before the duo tear into latest single Bleach Blonde Bottle Blues, introduced by the frontwoman as a song that “just waltzed in, that annoying person at a party who’s always fashionably late” describing how the song was added to the record once it was practically complete.
Foot-stomping and head rocking simply can’t be helped as the girls’ harmonies coupled with Rebecca’s rock guitar and Megan’s sliding lap steel adding the country twang wash over the London crowd, now fully immersed in the Georgia humidity. Addressing the rapturous applause and screams from the crowd Rebecca says “we’ve all got to fit inside a van and travel all the way to Berlin tomorrow, so don’t be getting our heads too big”. Peach cut Freedom follows before more from Venom & Faith by way of Honey Honey, it’s slick bassline enticing immediate head nodding from the crowd.
Black Echo allows for a musical break which sees Rebecca step out from behind her microphone and get close to the stage while busting out serious blues lead guitar licks before seceding front of stage to Megan and her incredibly mesmerising lap steel prowess. “This is an oldie y’all” yells Rebecca as the band break into KIN/Reskinned mover Don’t, the crowd immediately singing along to the more familiar tune.
Mad As A Hatter is introduced by Rebecca as one the first songs she ever wrote and one inspired by her grandfather: “he was a beautiful, beautiful man who also dealt with schizophrenia his entire life which led to an interesting storyline for him” but goes on to describe how mental illness impacts everybody, a speech met with applause that was quickly shut down by the sisters demonstrating their genuine nature.
Describing being on the road in the UK 27-year-old frontwoman jests “We’ve been missing us some M&S, the best services in all the land” in her deepest Southern accent, to chuckles from the North London crowd before breaking into slow mover Might As Well Be Me. Blue Ridge Mountains gives us more from Venom & Faith before the main set is closed out with Peach tune Wanted Woman – AC/DC.
Following a vehement foot-stomping from the crowd to entice them back to the stage, the sisters and their band gather at the edge of the stage for first encore song, a cover of Robert Johnson’s Come On In My Kitchen before closing the night out in rapturous fashion with Run For Your Money.
Tonight is hands down a masterclass in how to put on a rocking, roaring, stomping, storming blues rock show. You can call it American Roots, Country-infused rock, Blues rock or whatever you want really . The point is that labels don’t truly matter when the vocals are honey-slick, instrumentation is ridiculously epic and fun is being had by all. Add to that the music on offer tonight has been written not just by the incredibly talented duo on stage but also artists of varying backgrounds who have lived over the past 100 years. Tonight is a real eye-opener for any music fan and I implore anyone with a penchant for any of the genres mentioned to give Larkin Poe a listen – Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler had them play on his solo record and Keith Urban just had them along on his recent U.S. tour. The only disappointment for any fan of the Larkin Poe’s first record is that the focus tonight has clearly shifted to the duo’s subsequent releases.
Larkin Poe take their Venom & Faith tour to Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain before hitting the road in the US for a headline tour throughout the winter. They then return to Europe for a headline tour throughout March and April including shows in Manchester, Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Glasgow and Perth.
Live review and photos of Larkin Poe @ Islington Assembly Hall by Kalpesh Patel on 21st October 2018.