The cool night air and the eager buzz of spectators outside the El Club might make you forget it was a Wednesday night during the mid-season. My friend and I were standing on the dark sidewalk that wrapped around the block and I thought back wistfully to the first time I listened to Arlo Parks. It was earlier this year, in the throes of winter and on the eve of a new semester. Parks’ debut album, collapsed in the rays of the sun, had thawed out some of the cold-induced angst I was feeling, and I’ve been replaying the project ever since.
A lot has changed since the 21-year-old London musician left collapsed in the rays of the sun most striking in January was the new ability to enjoy the album in the privacy of a live concert. I felt the warmth and anticipation of an in-person performance simmering along the sidewalk as the queue marched through the hall and songs from Radiohead and HAIM played over the chatter of the waiting crowd. Life may not be back to normal yet, but the return of live music looks like a small victory nonetheless.
The hall filled with people regularly; Soon, the New York collective MICHELLE in the first part took to the stage with irreproachable energy. The six-person group performed songs from their 2018 album HEAT WAVE and a few of their latest singles with the carefree lightness of close friends. They were keen to remind audiences that “it’s cool to dance” and embodied this mantra with their own coordinated dances throughout the show. It was a fun and bubbly start to the evening that got the crowd moving enough.
When Parks finally made his way onto the stage, a simple outline illuminated by smoke and flashing red lights, the excitement was palpable. She first sang “Hurt”, a song from her album that was as dancing as it was serious, a deep reflection on the fleeting nature of pain in our lives. Parks greeted the audience with a soft British accent and wore a The Cramps t-shirt, sharing that it was her first time in Detroit. As the night wore on she certainly made up for lost time.
Parks performed some of his most popular songs, like “Green Eyes” and “Cola,” to an enthusiastic reception, but even older and more obscure tracks, like the single “Romantic Garbage” from 2019, almost made her sing. the whole crowd. for-word.
When she sang “Caroline,” Parks announced a contest she was running in every city on tour to see who could shout the loudest chorus. She smiled and pointed the microphone towards the crowd as the audience shouted the lyrics at the top of their lungs.
Still poetic, however, Parks took a moment after this screaming contest to deliver the titular oral creation track from his album, “Collapsed in Sunbeams.” The room fell completely silent as she read aloud, microphone in one hand and a well-worn newspaper in the other. It was a beautiful moment of closeness and sincerity, particularly emblematic of her ability to be both openly joyful and quietly contemplative.
When the set ended and the crowd cheered for an impending encore, Parks chose the track “Hope” to codify his performance. It’s a jazz-infused R&B isolation story that, despite the heavy subject matter, felt like a fitting end to the night. Parks repeatedly reminds the listener of the chorus that “You are not alone as you think”, a perfect summary of my transition from listening to. collapsed in the rays of the sun alone in my room to a tight-knit crowd of fans.
There is a special kind of community in Parks’ words that is especially impactful in a shared space. As my first gig outside the local Ann Arbor circuit since 2019, I felt far from alone.
The artistic editor of the daily Nora Lewis can be contacted at [email protected]