Bringing tales of heartbreak and hope to Headrow House on her first headline tour, 19-year-old Arlo Parks proved to be both a trail blazing musician and a poignant poet for the new decade.
Bounding on to stage with a grin from ear-to-ear, it’s difficult to believe this magnetic character is the same one who wrote the ensuing tracks which are so delicately woven with heartbreak and despair.
She has every reason to smile though of course. Parks has had a momentous two years which have seen the acclaimed release of her two EPs, Sophie and Super Sad Generation, plus nods from the BBC and The Guardian. Yet 2020 already has a trajectory for further successes, with the recently announced North American support slot with Hayley Williams in May and June.
Hammersmith-born Parks launched the night in Leeds with ‘Paperbacks’. A lo-fi anthem covering the complexity, confusion and contradictions that come with young and reckless relationships.
This theme is carried forward in ‘Cola,’ a break up record which intricately details the weight of carrying feelings of both love and hurt simultaneously. “So take your orchids elsewhere, elsewhere. I loved you to death and now I don’t really care,” she sings in defiance of being won back by flowers after betrayal.
The following unreleased track, ‘Punk Rock Eyes’ was “inspired by Janis Joplin and The Stooges,” and was evidently more rock-based, with a crescendo into an almighty guitar solo. Parks was noticeably relaxed and loving her time on stage by this point, as she joined the band in going wild to the instrumental.
‘Black Dog’ was a second unreleased track played to Leeds. The track was written for a friend of Parks, “who is no longer with us,” and was a poignant highlight of the set. While the track was personal to Parks it was equally relateable to many and showcased both her writing ability and professionalism as a performer.
“Can I perform a poem I wrote on the way here?” Parks asked to the audience, sounding genuinely unsure that the answer would be resoundingly positive. “I just found out Soft Cell are from Leeds, and I felt inspired,” she said.
The poem was a love letter to touring and being able to perform to crowds such as Leeds. It’s clear that writing came before the music for Parks. This is not because her music is not up to par, but because she has this rare relationship with the words which come from her mouth, as though they were only ever intended for those in the room.
She then handed the poem to a member of the audience and continued the set with her latest single ‘Eugene’.
The penultimate track ‘Super Sad Generation,’ narrated her struggle living as a gen-z without sounding entitled, self-focused or indulgent which the generation often get labelled as.
It is clear story telling runs in Arlo Parks’ blood. From her delicate language to her impassioned delivery, it is as though Parks needs to tell her stories as much as we need to hear them. And we need storytellers like Parks more than ever.