Standing pale in coordinated outfits, sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell stare at each other with a sheepish grin. Megan twists her electric lap steel in her hands as her band’s logo burns blue in the midst of projected, blackened trees behind. A deep breath, a smile, a bend of the knee, and Larkin Poe throw their trademark piercing guitar squeal into the crowd to open their London show at the Roundhouse.
Larkin Poe @ Roundhouse
“It is every human on earth’s duty to dig deep and find that spark,” declares Rebecca before scattering the blues-rock vintage gravel of She’s A Self Made Man over the historic venue. The train lines still etched into the floor despite a century of disuse seem now to be pointed towards Larkin Poe as if their performance was inevitable and prophesied. The clenched-fist, full-throated force of their sound is barely wrapped in neon gossamer frivolity and it’s painfully obvious how professional and passionate Larkin Poe have become. Back Down South is softer live but deeper, muffled by the weight of sentiment but still allowing Rebecca’s voice to jump through. Fists raise in the crowd as the image of the yellow moon projected into red boarded ceiling trickles down and her vocals add oil to the burning tune.
Larkin Poe are very aware of their own heritage and equally keen to share and rejoice in their experiences. On a personal level they dedicate their song Mad As A Hatter to their grandfather who was afflicted with schizophrenia. “Mental illness is one of those things which is so challenging to talk about but so worth talking about,” explains Megan as she glides through the song with a majestic, swan-like slide. Georgia Off My Mind is their tribute and reaction to their home state, a slow slinky burning powered by their memories of the sun. It’s a worship and rejection of the ‘rhinestone studded sky’ that they sing of that never becomes mired in cliches.
It’s the acoustic section of the show that astounds the most. Clustered round a single microphone like a bluegrass band from the Sun Records era, Larkin Poe create a reverence. We realise halfway through Might As Well Be Me that this music could take us down to the water and wash away our doubts. Each note of Southern Comfort hops delicately like a crow on a telegraph wire, offering us feather-soft absolution. Then, just as they faced the danger of making their show too serious, the sisters offer an acoustic cover of Elton John’s Crocodile Rock. Our frantic shushing now evolves to spontaneous choral backing as they clap us, our roles momentarily reversed. The aching slide of the last steel is shattered at the scorching rumble and drift into the tribal blues of Holy Ghost Fire, sweeping us with saguaro desert wind in every chord and breath.
There’s a mercurial joy in the variety of Larkin Poe’s setlist, and the swing back to electric blues for Bad Spell then forward to Bolt Cutters & The Family Name is worth the aural whiplash. The huge, stomping statement songs work so well for the duo as they dip their shoulders in time with the clashing red and blue spotlight flickers. Their burning passion circles around us like a lasso, drawing us in to their version of the world. Larkin Poe’s final song, Deep Stays Down, must be their strongest with it’s clicking street-siren energy. Rebecca and Megan dip in unison, firing rays of blistering spinning-blade slide guitar to send us back into the rainy London night. For a few short hours we’ve been transported to the America of Larkin Poe’s imagination, a world away from our own, and a place we’re far richer for having visited.
Review of Larkin Poe at the Roundhouse, London on 21st October 2023 by Kate Allvey. Photography by Abigail Shii.