The early part of this year has provided somewhat of a saturated market for live music. We knew this was coming—last summer, new tour dates dropped daily, with the return of live music finally in sight. Venue schedules quickly bordered on overloaded, with impossibly stacked lineups mounting as time went on.
So it’s not surprising that Clairo and Arlo Parks’ show at the Ryman was my fourth in the span of a week. Rather than further draining my admittedly low social battery, though, the show was a unique balm of sorts. It was a decidedly quieter affair than the previous shows, which consisted of two arena shows and a heart-on-sleeve club show from MUNA. Neither artist had particularly elaborate staging or riotous explosions of energy—a precious rarity in our saturated market.
Dedicated readers may recall my Faye Webster review, where I commented on the surprisingly high energy among the crowd for a rather mellow performance. The same was true here, albeit on an even larger scale. What was laid-back and contemplative onstage was echoed back as something boisterous, frantic even. This was most notable, expectedly, during Clairo’s headlining set, but I was thrilled to see the crowd offering similar energy to the criminally underrated Parks.
On that note, Parks’ opening set was remarkably lived-in, coming on the heels of her own headlining tour (which included a stop at our own Mercy Lounge). There’s a particular, unplaceable ease with which she presents herself. She’s innately mesmerizing and endlessly charismatic, showcasing above all else a sincere passion and devotion to her craft. At 21 and with only one full-length album under her belt, she already seems to have the whole thing down to a science. Her Mercury Prize-winning Collapsed in Sunbeams felt right at home within the Ryman’s storied walls; highlights like “Black Dog” and “Green Eyes” were mesmerizing and dreamy, but infused with a singular sense of vitality and authenticity.
Clairo (full name Claire Cottrill) followed a similar vein in her own set. Adorned with an eclectic assortment of lanterns, her staging was immediately atmospheric, backed up by the exquisite moodiness of opener “Bambi.” Her androgynous fashion—a chic Celine blazer over a white button-up—was effortlessly cool, emblematic of her humble, soft-spoken sensibilities. Much of Cottrill’s appeal stems from her forthright discussion of sapphic desire (I’ve often heard the term “friend of Clairo” used to refer to queer women in a “do you listen to Girl in Red?” sort of way), so it’s fun to see that her aesthetic follows suit—no pun intended.
My own experience with Sling, Cottrill’s sophomore full-length, differs drastically from that of the aforementioned crowd. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve played it, but I’m not confident I could sing any of the songs in full back to you. It’s a record I experience more than anything; I’m more inclined to let the songs wash over me than to memorize them.
Which is, of course, a stark contrast to the screaming teens on all sides of me. There’s a time when that would have been me, and the experience, rather than detracting from the beauty of Cottrill’s performance, made me nostalgic for a time I didn’t know I missed.
The term “industry plant” grew to prominence largely as a way to discredit Clairo’s success. I was, I will admit, not immune to this dynamic. Back in her early days, when “Pretty Girl” and “Flaming Hot Cheetos” first became popular, I didn’t take her all that seriously as an artist. Even when Immunity, her debut full-length, came around, I was still hesitant. As much as I loved songs like “Alewife” and “Bags,” I still bought into this notion that she wasn’t, for whatever reason, legitimate. With Sling being as excellent as it is, I get the impression that the discourse has largely left that notion behind. Perhaps people have just picked new targets, but I’m relieved to see that Clairo has surpassed that elusive threshold of legitimacy.
About two-thirds of the way through her set, Cottrill performed an unreleased song, “Nomad.” If it’s any indication of what’s to come, suffice it to say I’m thrilled.