The brisk night air and eager buzz of concertgoers outside El Club could make you forget it was a Wednesday evening during midterm season. My friend and I stood on the dark sidewalk wrapping around the block, and I thought back wistfully to the first time I listened to Arlo Parks. It was earlier this year, deep in the throes of winter and on the tails of a new semester. Parks’s debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, had thawed some of the cold weather-induced angst I was feeling, and I’ve been replaying the project ever since.
A lot has changed since the 21-year-old London musician released Collapsed in Sunbeams in January, most strikingly the newfound ability to enjoy the album in the intimacy of a live concert. I felt the warmth and anticipation of an in-person performance simmering along the sidewalk as the line filed into the venue and songs by Radiohead and HAIM played over the chatter of the waiting crowd. Life may not be back to normal quite yet, but the return of live music feels like a small victory nonetheless.
The room steadily surged with people; soon, opening act New York collective MICHELLE took to the stage with impeccable energy. The six-person group played songs from their 2018 album HEATWAVE and a few of their latest singles with the carefree levity of close friends. They made a point to remind the audience that “it’s cool to dance,” and embodied this mantra with coordinated dances of their own throughout the performance. It was a fun and bubbly start to the night that sufficiently got the crowd moving.
When Parks finally made her way onstage, a mere outline illuminated by smoke and flashing red lights, the excitement was palpable. She sang “Hurt” first, a track off her album that’s as danceable as it is serious, a profound reflection on the fleeting nature of pain in our lives. Parks greeted the audience with a gentle British accent and wore a The Cramps T-shirt, sharing that it was her first time in Detroit. As the night progressed, she certainly made up for lost time.
Parks played some of her more popular songs, like “Green Eyes” and “Cola,” to an enthusiastic reception, but even older and more obscure material, like the 2019 single “Romantic Garbage,” had almost the whole crowd singing along word-for-word.
When she sang “Caroline,” Parks announced a competition she held in every city on tour to see who could shout the chorus the loudest. She smiled and pointed the microphone toward the crowd as the audience screamed the lyrics at the top of their lungs.
Always poetic, though, Parks took a moment after this screaming contest to deliver the titular spoken-word piece from her album, “Collapsed in Sunbeams.” The room fell completely silent as she read aloud, the microphone in one hand and a well-worn journal in the other. It was a beautiful moment of closeness and sincerity, particularly emblematic of her ability to be both openly joyful and quietly contemplative.
When the set ended and the crowd cheered for an imminent encore, Parks chose the track “Hope” to coda her performance. It’s a jazz-infused R&B tale of isolation that, despite the heavy subject matter, felt like a fitting end to the night. Parks repeatedly reminds the listener on the chorus that “You’re not alone like you think you are,” a perfect summation of my transition from listening to Collapsed in Sunbeams alone in my room to a tight-knit crowd of fans.
There is a special kind of community in Parks’s words that is especially impactful in a shared space. As my first concert outside the local Ann Arbor circuit since 2019, I felt far from alone.
Daily Arts Writer Nora Lewis can be reached at email@example.com.