Playing alongside names like Elvis Costello and Conor Oberst would make any band proud and understandably so. No one would frown at the idea of sharing a stage with artists that have influenced entire generations of musicians while putting their own spin on classic sounds that are known and revered worldwide.
For Larkin Poe, though, this is not the pinnacle of their career. It is more of a stepping stone on the way to something much bigger.
Since 2010, sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell have been able to put those feathers in their cap. After performing at the Grand Ole Opry and on A Prairie Home Companion, the two regrouped to form the roots rock group that has made them known in the musical world. Since then, they were selected by producer T. Bone Burnett for Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes, a reworking of lyrics written by Bob Dylan, as well as performing on Southern Gravity, the well-reviewed solo debut of Sugarland’s Kristian Bush.
Despite this, it is their own solo offerings, 2014’s KIN, and the reworking of this album, 2016’s Reskinned¸ that make the band stand out. While sticking true to the musical southern roots, the sister’s Lovell have managed to create a sound that is timeless, yet somehow still modern.
It was in between legs of Costello’s latest tour that Larkin Poe took time to return home, headlining a show at Atlanta’s fantastic Terminal West.
From the start, it was obvious that it was a homecoming of sorts. While many of the crowd enjoyed the odd drink or the hipster-friendly sweet potato taco from adjacent Stationside, the curtain to the sisters worked double time as people made their way in and out. When Megan emerged for a minute or more, she immediately found herself signing an autograph.
The room began to fill as the mix of Americana and classic rock played beforehand, never quite reaching capacity. Perhaps this was an indicator that it was a Thursday night and the Atlanta crowd had opted for a responsible midweek bedtime. Perhaps it was an indicator that Larkin Poe is one of the most overlooked acts out today.
The show began with a set by Sam Burchfield. While Burchfield may not be a household name at this point either, this is more of a conscious decision on his part than an ignorance of his many talents. Selected for season 13 of American Idol, Burchfield stopped short of going to Hollywood, instead opting to keep his retro sound under his own control.
Burchfield’s set kicked off with a funky song complete with a Motown-esque horn section. This horn section, and his band as a whole, frequently stole the show with fantastic solos. The second number was dominated by an amazing saxophone solo. During a song that was a new take on Bonnie and Clyde, the band members filled in behind Burchfield’s vocals with a full harmony, giving the song a great southern roots feel.
This is not to say that Burchfield was content to let the band take over the show. Throughout each song, his infectious energy took over the crowd. When the songs reached a danceable peak, the crowd was more than happy to follow their fedora-clad leader. When he brought the energy back down, the crowd listened intently. Burchfield led the crowd through a roller coaster of changes, hitting everything in the realm of Americana music from blues to Motown-era R&B to folk to rock. At one point, he even appeared to scat, although there is a chance that my ears may just be getting too old to decipher lyrics at live shows.
The audience danced along throughout. One woman broke into a salsa as Burchfield celebrated Cinco de Mayo with the interpolation of Spanish. As the set ended, the horn section danced through the crowd, creating a party-like atmosphere that certainly had the energy buzzing for Larkin Poe.
The people that had pushed towards the stage greeted Larkin Poe with cheers before a single note had even been played.
Larkin Poe began acapella before breaking into a full sound. Suddenly, the band seemed more at home as Megan began to perform like one of the queens of rock complete with hair flips and gestures. With a quick mention of how good it was to be home, the set continued, transitioning into a track full of sparse drums and bumping bass before seamlessly switching into a sped up version of “Black Betty.”
As the band played “Trouble in Mind” off of Reskinned, the vocals cut through the room harshly. The theatrical singing made sure the room knew who was in control and ended with a perfect acapella ending that greatly enhanced the already great track.
One of the more interesting moments in the set did not come from the band’s original catalog, but in the form of a cover of Bob Dylan’s “New Pony.” Selecting a song from Dylan’s divisive 1978 album Street Legal is a bold decision. This decision paid off as bass and drums began doing most of the work before Megan sprinkled in slide guitar, a brief lead-in to a moment of pure chaos that, after the perfected harmonies and instrumentation, strikes even harder. It is a brilliant rendition of the song, one that could easily be considered better than the original.
The crowd’s energy was obviously felt by the band as the interactions between stage and crowd increased, filling the void between songs and, more than once, between verses. While the set would be cut short due to Rebecca’s swollen vocal chords, she was careful not to let on, keeping the energy up through their upcoming UK single “Blunt,” a new unrecorded song focusing on everything 90’s called “Dark Matter,” and the doo-wop on steroids feel of “Tornado.” Even tuning issues before “When God Closes a Door” did not slow the band down.
“It’s really surreal to be up here in front of our parents and friends,” the girls noted before a song. In truth, this would be nothing compared to what is to follow for the band in Europe, later mentioning that they will be opening for Queen for their first stadium show in the coming weeks. These two things are mentioned with the same level of importance, showcasing that behind the smooth solos and powerful vocals, Larkin Poe is less concerned with making a name for themselves and more focused on performing their songs the best they can for whoever is listening. This earnestness informs their songs and lends the refrains of songs like “Banks of Altoona” a more genuine sound.
The set ended on an up note with “Jailbreak,” filled with thumping drums backing the interplay between the sisters as their vocals and instruments echoed one another. With a fist in the air triumphantly, the band left, only to return for a haunting rendition of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).” It was easily the calmest moment of the evening and the crowd set transfixed as the song was covered beautifully, the light instrumentation allowing the sister’s perfect harmonies to hang thick in the air.
As the show ended, the line of friends and family and fans stretched the length of the stage. There were autographs and well wishes, pictures and hugs. After weeks spent opening for Elvis Costello and performing alongside him, this is their chance to dominate the spotlight. While the members of the line eagerly opened up their newly purchased records and made their way to the front, the look on the sister’s faces said everything.
It’s good to be home.