Gig review: Carrie Elkin and Larkin Poe at Gateshead Central
Those not familiar with the music of Carrie Elkin would be forgiven for deducing from her slight yet sturdy frame, impressively veiny biceps and spiky tattoo that we might be in for a set of challenging, perhaps even noisy music. But, inevitably, our mental preconceptions are proven quite wide of the mark. Instead of a rockabilly-punk jezebel, it turns out that Elkin has a voice with just the right balance of grit and honey, which she beautifully deploys throughout a low-key set. Simply accompanied by acoustic guitar and lap steel, the audience sit in quiet reverie as fragile, delicately arranged pieces wash through the room.
The songs are generally concerned with love and its tribulations, with some interesting diversions along the way. “The Things We’re Afraid Of” appears to be told from the point of view of a man suffering a night-time moment of existential doubt, pondering both his mortality and his marital competence, summed up in the haunting refrain How will I love my wife? There are intriguing sailing metaphors in both “Lift Up The Anchor”, rife with sexual ambiguity, and “Landeth By Sea” (firmly dedicated to Elkin’s partner and fellow musician Danny Schmidt) – rather less ambiguous, although just as lyrically fascinating. This cerebral, winning stuff, just right for sitting back in quiet contemplation. Quite a contrast to what’s in store for the second half.
It’s now an accepted fact in most modern societies that the concentration of vast assets in the hands of a few is a bad thing. But it seems no one told sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell, whose combined talent, charm, and – there’s no getting away from it – good looks as Larkin Poe, could send those of a redistributive bent into a cold sweat.
The wildest fantasies of the most optimistic Nashville A&R scout surely couldn’t have dreamt up such a winning combination as this. Brunette Rebecca is bandleader, wowing the audience with witty asides, wielding a mandolin with such jaunty confidence you’d swear impossible for one of such tender years. Blond Rapunzel Megan is on lap slide, both dobro and electric, and her performance is just as casually perfect, knocking out licks with abandon, gazing adoringly at her sister throughout. With her amp fully warmed up, close your eyes and it really could be Dave Gilmour in the room.
So before even a note is played, expectations can be said to be, well, raised. And in the same manner as the previous act, the reality is somewhat different. Early in the set, a country-styled cover of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” is just as pointless as it sounds on paper. It’s clear from their four season-themed releases in the last year alone that editing isn’t the girls’ strong point, and this is reflected in the long set. Supported by drums and electric bass, the band motors along in an engaging fashion, although purists may dispute whether this is really country at all, wandering as it does towards female-fronted MOR – are there many Hootie and The Blowfish albums in the bedroom back home. Combined with their stage presence, this of course means they’ll be selling millions of records by this time next year, and booked to play the interval at Superbowl 2012.
In reality, any serious critical analysis pales into crabby insignificance when compared with the endearing “only-from-America” optimism and superlative skill on show. The girls deserve a huge amount of credit for what they have achieved this early into their careers – with a focus on quality control and careful editing of their set, they will be truly unstoppable.