One of the coolest experiences we can have at Austin City Limits is to open a brand new season with new talent. The 21-year-old from West London, singer/songwriter Arlo Parks, took her own country by storm with her album Collapsed in Sunbeams, which earned her two 2022 Grammy nominations in the States and won the Mercury Prize at home for Best British Album of 2021. With major dates opening for Harry Styles and Billie Eilish, and a stateside tour with Clairo under her belt, the singer of radio hits “Hurt” and “Softly” capped the first half of 2022 off with her debut taping for Austin City Limits.
Parks’ eight-piece band came out first, singers and horn players on either side of the usual guitar/bass/drums/keys lineup, and started a warmly funky groove. Arriving in shorts, lime-green sneakers and a Dizzy Gillespie T-shirt, Park went immediately into the smooth R&B of “Green Eyes” to great applause. After introducing herself to the audience, Parks and the band kept the soulful vibe going with “Portra 400,” a gem from Collapsed in Sunbeams that began in her bedroom home studio. She followed with the moodier, more atmospheric “Caroline,” encouraging the crowd to sing along to the chorus, before going into “Cola,” her very first single from her attention-getting EP Super Sad Generation, made while she was in high school. She then announced “Eugene,” which she called “my favorite” – a sentiment to which her fans apparently agreed, as they cheered the soul-pop take on unrequited love before it even began.
Parks then did something that’s never happened on the ACL stage before: she read an original poem. Besides giving her a chance to catch her breath, it also took the audience back to her beginnings, when she wrote poetry and fiction before incorporating music. She followed that ACL milestone with the lovely ballad “Angel’s Song,” which truly sounded like an extension of her roots in written verse. The song has barely finished before a cymbal wash and electric piano chords heralded “Romantic Garbage,” an emotional but witty ballad from Super Sad Generation that was the song which led her manager to her and started her career. “I love playing that song,” she noted. Parks shifted the mood for the next song, the darker “Black Dog,” though it was less dwelling on depression than insisting it can be overcome. Then the groove pumped back up, the horns started to soar, and Parks led the band in “Hurt,” another song determined to pull its main character from the brink.
Parks took a break to introduce the band, before launching into the soul tune “Too Good,” dismissing an emotionally detached ex with hooks and a groove and proving to be an immediate crowd favorite. She followed with “Softy,” a catchy electropop tune released as a single only a couple of months ago and destined for greatness, if the audience hand-waving is any indication. “It’s been very magical,” proclaimed Parks as the last song of the set loomed. “Sophie” ended the main set on a slinky, luscious soul groove and an epic guitar solo. Of course, Parks and her band returned for one more song, accepting flowers from an audience member before sending the crowd home with the affirmational, gospel-tinged “Hope.” “You’re not alone!” Parks declared, and everyone was with her as she left the stage. It was a strong showing by a relative newcomer, and we can’t wait for you to see Parks and her band when her episode airs this fall on your local PBS station as part of our Season 48.