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The audience started to arrive relatively early tonight at the Greystones, just as the lone sound of a kick drum pulsated to a steady beat in the back room, driven by the foot of drummer Marlon Patton, busily navigating the mandatory sound check. Larkin Poe's reputation has steadily grown over the last couple of years, not least as a result of some high profile engagements, such as their appearances at Glastonbury, Cambridge and Cropredy festivals, not to mention a recent live session on Wogan's Sunday morning radio show. Tonight they returned to The Greystones with a much more ballsy attitude than previously, with their amps turned up to eleven.
There was an additional buzz running alongside Marlon's pulsating beat, not emanating from the house speakers though, but rather from the audience who had steadily formed an orderly queue in the bar, their collective anticipation clearly audible. Despite the band’s move from bluegrass-based folk to a much harder rock-based approach, the audience demographic is still hovering around the bus pass territory, or to be brutally honest, exceeding it by some measure. The reason why younger people have not yet started to patronise this sort of gig in droves is still a mystery to me. Having said that, the music Larkin Poe now play is pretty much aimed at anyone with even a passing love for bands such as Little Feat, The Allman Brothers and early Ry Cooder and as we already know, the bus pass generation grew up on that and can still rock like the best of ‘em.
All the seats had been removed for tonight’s show allowing for a shoulder to shoulder mosh pit situation, with a long side bench for those that don't do standing anymore. Mostly though, the audience seemed to be happy to re-live their youth by moshing in the mosh pit despite some creaky bones. With no support, the band, featuring the charismatic Lovell sisters, Rebecca on electric and acoustic guitars and mandolin, elder sister (by 18 months) Megan on lap steel guitar and Marlon Patton multi-tasking on both drums and bass pedal, took to the stage to some ecstatic applause.
Kicking off with an explosive Sugar High, the band soon filled the packed room with sound, going on to perform songs from their debut full-length album KIN, but not before the band's deep-rooted swamp gospel of the traditional Wade in the Water, a mainstay of the band's repertoire. Apart from this song, Larkin Poe have clearly put the past behind them, most notably at the concessions table from where I was standing, where their current album was the only music available tonight in both CD and vinyl format; no EPs, no collaborative projects, Year Zero.
After such songs as Mad as a Hatter, Jesse and Stubborn Love, Rebecca announced that after a couple more songs from the album they were going to perform some brand new songs. "See how we're building up the suspense" the singer quipped. The first of the new songs came in the form of the Rolling Stones influenced As American as Apple Pie, complete with a distinctly bluesy groove throughout. Utilising the bass pedal, Marlon Patton kicked off Hey, Sinner, which included one of Megan Lovell's most explosive lap steel solos, which eventually morphed into Leadbelly's Black Betty ala Ram Jam.
Dandelion, another song from the album, demonstrated the sort of hard driving blues once heard on Principle of Silver Lining, one of the band's pre-year zero songs, featuring some fine guitar soloing from Rebecca Lovell, before the band launched into yet another new song, the funky When God Closes a Door.
Finishing with the good-time rocking Jailbreak, the band left the stage to an enthusiastic response from the 140-plus crowd, returning for just the one encore, the band's dramatic rendition of Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down), the old Cher/Nancy Sinatra hit, which the audience treated to the silent respect it deserved. The proverbial pin hitting the ground would've been thunderous.
The band played well tonight and left the audience definitely wanting more. I have to say though, as a long term fan of the band, that although I appreciate the direction Larkin Poe have taken, after spending a good couple of years searching for their chosen path, that I really would have liked the audiences at Glastonbury, Cambridge, Cropredy and even the millions who tuned into Wogan last week, to have heard such peerless songwriting as Praying for the Bell, Burglary, We Intertwine, Long Hard Fall and Trance, but we may just have to wait for the Larkin Poe tribute band for that to happen I guess, the new Larkin Poe have definitely moved on.