Last updated on October 24th, 2022 at 10:45 pm
Live music on a Tuesday night is a commitment. In a worst-case scenario, it can set you back, draining you for the rest of the week. On the best occasions, however, something quite different occurs. Specifically, a great show early in the week can give you the energy to power through the duration, fueling your body, soul, and spirit.
This Tuesday at the Turf Club (the best place in the cities for a midweek concert), Arlo McKinley put on a passionate show that fell decidedly in the latter category.
The show opened with a set by singer-songwriter Ritch Henderson. Henderson, a north Alabama native, played a solo acoustic set that connected with the audience deeply. Henderson’s songs were often visceral and packed a gut-wrenching emotional punch you don’t always get from an opening act.
Henderson mentioned that he has an album out early next year. Based on the songs he played in this set and his performance in the set as a whole, that album figures to be a good one.
Arlo McKinley wasn’t promoting an upcoming album but rather was touring behind his latest release This Mess we’re in. McKinley mentioned early on that the album had cleared the first round for the “Americana album of the year” Grammy.
Though he downplayed it, the acclaim is much deserved. The record, McKinley’s second on the late John Prine’s Oh Boy Records, is indeed one of the year’s best “Americana” albums. Like his previous release, 2020’s deeply underrated Die Midwestern, This Mess We’re In, showcases Arlo as a songwriter with a lot of heart and a great voice to boot.
Both of these were on display from the beginning of his set Tuesday. While some of the songs are sad, even devastating, there’s an understated resilient throughline to Arlo’s music. Even when he sings about hard times, you know he’ll make it to the other side. This humanity fosters a strong bond between Arlo and his audience that can’t be overlooked, which gave the show a personal touch. This made the show feel extra special.
Of course, Arlo’s great voice helped matters as well. On a stage with a (very good) full band, Arlo’s voice was the most powerful instrument. This was on display throughout, but possibly never more-so than on the several covers that he performed. These ranged from John Prine (“Storm windows”) to Rihanna (“Stay”) to Elton John (“Tiny Dancer”).
While for some artists, going acoustic and playing covers can threaten to become too “coffee shop” (I.e. Mediocre), Arlo used these covers effectively to display his dynamic range as a singer. Though they weren’t all choices you’d expect from him, he nailed each one, more than respecting the greats he was covering.
As fun as these were, though, this was still an Arlo McKinley show, and the best part of seeing an Arlo McKinley Show is hearing Arlo McKinley sing Arlo McKinley songs. Hitting on his whole catalog, Arlo sang through many of his best. “The Hurtin’s Done,” and “I’ve got her” and “Gone for Good” are just a few of the many songs he played that flourished in the live setting.
That’s not to say the recordings lack something- they don’t, but hearing these and others live was impactful in a way that sometimes only live music can be.