Larkin Poe performs at 9:30 Club on March 9, 2023. (Photo by Ari Strauss)
Rebecca Lovell, the younger of the two sisters who make up Larkin Poe, told the audience at the 9:30 Club, “All American music grows from the root of the blues.” She connected the past to the present and the future, introducing Son House’s “Preachin’ Blues” as “a song that connects the generations.”
Rebecca, who plays electric guitar and did the talking for the band, credited her older sister Megan, saying everything they do as a band comes down to “the sound she can make on the slide guitar.” Megan promptly demonstrated the point, playing a blazing solo to begin “Preachin’ Blues.”
In yet another sense, this concert connected the generations: crowds at the 9:30 Club often skew younger — it gets hard to stay on your feet for a few hours as your body ages — but the crowd on Thursday night was a cross-section of all ages. This is a credit to the band’s broad appeal, which is rooted in tradition but embraces modern perspectives, including feminism. Rebecca told the audience that “She’s A Self Made Man” is a song that she “wrote for myself, for my sister, and for all the incredibly beautiful women here.”
There’s a bit of the hippy spirit to the Lovells. Rebecca said, “We’re all here because we believe in the power of live music,” then asked, “How many of you believe music can change your life?” The psychedelic light show that accompanied the performanced reinforced this pleasantly retro vibe.
In today’s musical atmosphere, Larkin Poe’s emphasis on guitars also marks them as a something of throwback; they’ve been talked about as the “little sisters” of the Allman Brothers Band. Chris Shifflett (of the Foo Fighters) once described Americana as “where all the guitar bands go,” and label has been applied to the band’s work. As instrumentalists, the Lovells are superb, having playing with Elvis Costello, Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, Keith Urban, and Kristian Bush of Sugarland.
The sisters’ focus on instrumental excellence, is, in itself a political statement. The canon of great guitar players consists almost entirely of men, and women are often pigeonholed as singers. By simply being as good as they are and playing their kind of music, Larkin Poe is living their commitments.
Instrumental virtuosity is great, but it can also be taken too far, to the point where the emphasis on showing the musician’s skill becomes uninteresting, even self-indulgent. People enjoy seeing displays of virtuosity, but only to the point that it serves the purpose of the music. It doesn’t work when it’s just an excuse for the musician to show off. Larkin Poe avoids this trap, balancing their dazzling displays of skill with an emphasis on the songs. On top of that, their breadth prevents their act from becoming repetitive and uninteresting. A cover of AC/DC’s hard rocker “Wanted Woman” is a great example of the variety in their sets.
Though they may have a bit of hippy spirit, Larkin Poe isn’t averse to commercialism. While they didn’t write “Southern Comfort” as a grab for sponsorship from the liquor company, they were more than happy to take it when it was offered. Going on tour, they explained, is expensive.
Watch the official music video for “Southern Comfort” by Larkin Poe on YouTube:
Fittingly, the band walked out to Cream’s “White Room,” propelled by Eric Clapton’s legendary early-career guitar work. “Wanted Woman.”The show opened with “Strike Gold,” followed by “Kick The Blues” and “Summertime Sunset,” the tracks from their latest album, last year’s Blood Harmony, which are they touring behind. While they are excellent interpreters of songs, the evening’s set list consisted, except for two covers, of their original songs.
Hailing from Nashville, some of those songs, like, “Blue Ridge Mountains” and “Back Down South” have a distinct regional flavor. “Mad As A Hatter,” which Rebecca wrote when she was 15, deals with their paternal grandfather’s struggles with mental illness. She told the audience, “It’s something we all deal with.” It’s important that things like this are said to destigmatize mental health issues, and I appreciate her saying it.
Both critically and commercially, Larkin Poe has met with success. Their 2018 album, Venom & Faith, made it to the #1 spot on the Billboard Blues chart and was nominated for Best Contemporary Blues Album at the 2020 Grammy Awards. The follow-up album, Self Made Man, released in 2020, also reached #1.
The set also included “Holy Ghost Fire,” “Bleach Blonde Bottle BLues,” “Might As Well Be Me,” and “Bad Spell,” which was influenced by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s “I Put A Spell On You.” The main set concluded with “Bolt Cutters and The Family Name,” and the band returned to play “Deep Stay Down” for their encore.
This was a high-energy show, full of roaring guitars and bright lights, and the band had the audience clapping along at times. Performance is an emphasis for Larkin Poe: “I wrote these songs for the stage,” said Rebecca. And it shows: their performance was impressive and invigorating.
Here are some photos of Larkin Poe performing at 9:30 Club on March 9, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Ari Strauss.