Live Reports

Arlo Parks at AB : My Soft Machine Tour

Arlo Parks came to the AB last Friday to present her latest album “My Soft Machine” to Belgian audiences. Her refined performance had the softening effect that pervades her pop/r&b music, leaving us all set to end the week in peace and harmony.

Arlo Parks @ Ancienne Belgique – Brussels– 15 September 2023 // FreakMike Photography for CtrlAltMusic

A lot has happened since then 19-year-old Arlo Parks first came to the AB four years ago. The London artist with Nigerian, Chadian and French origins released two highly acclaimed albums, won the Mercury Prize, and got nominated for two Grammys. In 2021, “Collapsed in Sunbeams” became an iconic, uplifting soundtrack to the dark times of the pandemic. Released via Transgressive Records in May 2023, “My Soft Machine” is set to propel her to even higher realms of success, sending her to tour sold out venues all over the world.

Up first – the great and talented Vagabon

Vagabon @ Ancienne Belgique – Brussels– 15 September 2023 // FreakMike Photography for CtrlAltMusic

For the EU leg of her tour, Parks invited her best friend and highly talented artist Vagabon to open the show. The Cameroonian-American Laetitia Tamko is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist, singer and producer based in New York. She’s just released her third album “Sorry I Haven’t Called,” a highly ambitious pop/hip-hop work, including hit single Can I Talk My Shit?, the musical equivalent of a high-protein energy bar. Vagabon’s performance reflects her multi-talented energy, showcasing her ability to play various instruments while never missing a singing note. To the audience’s joy, she finishes with hit song Water Me Down (from her 2nd album “Vagabon,” 2019), the perfect transition to the calming wind down we’re about to experience with Arlo Parks.

In a chill mood with My Soft Machine

Arlo Parks @ Ancienne Belgique – Brussels– 15 September 2023 // FreakMike Photography for CtrlAltMusic

Sporting baggies and a flaming red hairdo, Arlo arrives on stage with a bright smile on her face. Next to the band, a colourful human-sized sound machine hints at the title of her last album. On stage, Parks has the elegantly silky presence of a Siamese cat. Her sumptuous movements are perfectly attuned to her calming voice. She sings “I only want to be with you” (from Blades, “My Soft Machine”) like she means it, and we instantly feel her devotion to making us rejoice tonight. The atmosphere gets even warmer as she leaps down the stage on Caroline (“Collapsed in Sunbeams”), making her stand close to the front rows. The vibe is intimate as she tells us how Brussels had been so welcoming to the relatively unknown 19-year-old she was back in 2019. Some Belgian fans with unerring musical instinct had told her they believed in her and that she should keep on making music. Four years later, Arlo is dazzling a sold out AB playing a guitar solo on her hit song Devotion (“My Soft Machine”).

Arlo Parks @ Ancienne Belgique – Brussels– 15 September 2023 // FreakMike Photography for CtrlAltMusic

Like her musical journey, Parks’ songs are highly inspiring. Her wholesome lyrics suggest a warm, open personality, one that has found love and wants to share the news with the world. Tellingly, her song I’m Sorry (“My Soft Machine”) revolves around the bliss of finding that person that accepts you the way you are, imperfections and rough edges included. Yet whereas her songs celebrate showing vulnerability and uncovering your true self, her performance sometimes came out too perfect to be true. The highly orchestrated moves and the band’s jolly attitude occasionally made us crave a bit of candour. Critics have indeed described Parks before as an artist who refrains from colouring outside the lines. But is conforming really an issue if still you manage to inspire people’s devotion? As an infatuated fan hands Arlo Parks a lush bouquet of red roses, the entire audience seems to think “not at all.”

Setlist: Bruiseless, Weightless, Blades, Caroline, Impurities, I’m Sorry, Eugene, Dog Rose, Pegasus, Hurt, Too Good, Black Dog, Purple Phase, Hope, Sophie, Devotion, Encore: Softly.

Arlo Parks’ EU tour ends in London on 28/9. In the meanwhile, sit back, relax, and listen to “My Soft Machine” here.

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