Home Live Review Live Review: Arlo McKinley @ Pearl Street Warehouse — 4/1/23

Live Review: Arlo McKinley @ Pearl Street Warehouse — 4/1/23

Live Review: Arlo McKinley @ Pearl Street Warehouse — 4/1/23

Arlo McKinley (Photo by Emma Delevante)

Cincinnati’s Arlo McKinley may have been discovered by the late John Prine, who signed him to his Oh Boy record label, but he recently showed at the Pearl Street Warehouse that his musical range goes far beyond that familiar country-folk territory.

In addition to his covering Prine’s “How Lucky,” Arlo threw in a couple of unexpected numbers: Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” INXS’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (“a song by an Australian songwriter who’s no longer with us”), and “Nothing Compares 2 U” in the style of Sinead O’Connor, using the same gendered pronouns.

That last bit is important to observe, because it’s subtle, but it’s very intentional, and Arlo is making a point. A lot of people might make assumptions from looking at him and his long hair, beard, and tattoos. And they might underestimate him or assume he’s not a thoughtful, progressive guy.

But if you pay attention to the songs, and to what he has to say between them, you realize what a sharp customer he is. At Pearl Street Warehouse on April 1, Arlo shared a couple of classic bits. “I just got back from Australia,” he said, then added, “I ate a kangaroo.” He had a bit about “only playing in Roadhouse-style bars,” and said he “can’t believe Jake Gyllenhaal’s remaking that with Conor MacGregor,” who “hasn’t won a fight in five years.” (Of course, the best thing about Roadhouse is wrestling legend Terry Funk, who, pushing 80 and, sadly, suffering from dementia, likely caused by years of taking bumps in the ring, will definitely not be a part of the new movie.)

Arlo has been playing music for a long time, but he released his first album, Die Midwestern, in 2020. Garnering strong critical reviews, the album brought him a new level of attention. I spoke to him about that, and our shared roots in Ohio, back in August. While many artists who do similar work relocate to Nashville, he prefers staying in his hometown, where he can connect with his longtime friends and disconnect from the music. He mentioned the example of the late Jason Molina (Songs: “Ohia,” “Magnolia Electric Company”), one of his favorite artists (he also mentioned the late Justin Townes Earle) who stayed in his corner of Indiana during his career.

Stream Die Midwestern by Arlo McKinley on Spotify:

When I talked to Arlo, we also discussed some of the differences between Cincinnati and my hometown, Akron. Located in the southwest corner of the state, across the Ohio River from Kentucky, Cincinnati has a distinct southern influence on its culture — including the music. Akron, which is the northeast part of the state, is more tied to the Great Lakes region, and more tied to punk. Interestingly, I found that there’s a divide between the northern slice and the rest of the state, which are located in different linguistic regions. (The northern part of the state has an Inland North Accent, while the rest is a Midlands accent.)

There’s a heaviness to Arlo’s music which is apparent on that first album and the follow-up, last year’s This Mess We’re In. “Bag of Pills” deals with the opioid epidemic, which he’s lost friends and relatives to do. “I Wish I,” he explained, is “about sacrificing everything to do what I love, which is play music.” “The Hurtin’s Done” dealt with his loss of his mother just before the Covid pandemic.

Arlo started the set with “We We Were Alright,” followed by “Don’t Need To Know,” “Stealing Dark From The Night Sky,” “Die Midwestern,” “Walking Shoes,” and “Dancing Days.”

After “Back Home,” the bassist and drummer left the stage, leaving Arlo, his guitarist, and his pedal steel player. They did Lukas Nelson’s “Georgia.” After the rest of the band came back, Arlo finished out the set with “Waiting for Wild Horses” and “Rushintherug.” For their encore, they did “This Damn Town.”


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