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Larkin Poe – Northshore Center, Skokie, June 21, 2024


By Mark Plotnick

Photos: Jim Summaria

L to R : Rebecca and Megan Lovell


Concert Review

Artist: Larkin Poe

Where: Northshore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie, IL

When: Friday, June 21, 2024

By Mark Plotnick

Photos: Jim Summaria

 

Back in 1965, the Who’s Pete Townshend declared “The Kids Are Alright.”  Let me add that the girls are alright. Times have changed since female-led bands like Fanny and Heart met with music industry misogyny: “That Nancy [Wilson] is a fine-looking girl, but is that guitar really plugged in?”


The guitars of Rebecca and Megan Lovell were absolutely plugged in and dialed up during their June 21st performance at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. Opened in 1996, the venue’s excellent acoustics and state-of-the-art sound brought out the best in Larkin Poe and other acts that played the Center’s two-day Off North Shore Skokie Music Festival.


My introduction to Larkin Poe arrived seven years ago via homegrown videos. Sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell had the looks, but my interest quickly pivoted to their impressive songwriting, instrumental prowess and vocal harmonies.


Beginnings

To fully appreciate the women who took the stage, it’s essential to know from whence they came. Rebecca and Megan were born in Tennessee and bred in Calhoun, Georgia. As children, they basked in the region’s rich musical heritage such as bluegrass, country, rural blues and Southern rock. They took violin and piano lessons and learned music theory. Singing in a choir trained them on pitch and harmony. They played in string quartets and symphony orchestras. They’d go on to win talents contests. Music was in their DNA.


In 2005, Rebecca, Megan and older sister Jessica formed a three-piece progressive bluegrass band named The Lovell Sisters. Jessica played fiddle, Rebecca mandolin and Megan dobro. Megan’s fascination with resonator guitars was influenced by dobro master Jerry Douglas of the Alison Krauss band Union Station.


But the three became two in 2009 when Jessica left for college. The remaining two sisters formed Larkin Poe - the name of a family ancestor related to Edgar Allen Poe. They transitioned from acoustic bluegrass music to amped-up, guitar-driven blues, rock and country. Along the way, they collaborated with and supported notable country and rock artists. They picked up admirers like Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney. Frequent touring built their brand.


To date, Larkin Poe has released five full-length studio (in various editions) and one live album. Two recent LPs topped the Billboard blues chart and their latest - Blood Harmony - won their first Grammy. Their June 21st performance at the Northshore Center lived up to their Grammy billing and their reputation as a must-see live band.  


Showtime

Rebecca strolled onstage with her favorite 1960s style custom Fender Stratocaster while Megan appeared with her Beard Electro-Liege lap steel – a lightweight, strapped-on model she helped design to be played while standing. Positioned further back were Tarka Layman on bass and drummer Kevin McGowan – a formidable rhythm section that brought out the best in the Lovells.


Rebecca is the band’s primary songwriter and lyricist with creative support from Megan. More than half of the band’s thirteen song set came from Larkin Poe’s Grammy winning album Blood Harmony, a recording whose material was developed for live performance. With the sisters moving from programmed drum tracks to a live drum-driven band, Megan Lovell has remarked, “it gets loud…but that’s good.”  


The band wasted no time energizing the audience with the opening song “Summertime Sunset.”  Rebecca laid down a bluesy guitar riff before the song kicked into high gear with McGowan’s drums and Layman’s bass. Megan’s then dropped in a nasty slide guitar figure. Suddenly, the instruments pulled back and gave space to Rebecca’s stirring, soulful vocal. I thought to myself, ‘With a voice like that, when is the devil coming to collect her soul?’


Without missing a beat, the band segued into one of their favorite covers – “Jessica” by the Allman Brothers Band. Despite the absence of piano and organ (as heard in the original), Rebecca and Megan’s harmonized guitar licks fully captured the song’s signature joyful melody. The chemistry and musical telepathy between sisters were on full display. They call themselves “attached at the hip.” 


“Kick the Blues” came next, another tune from their Blood Harmony album. This up-tempo country rocker featured Megan’s rollicking slide riff (she tunes her laptop steel to an open G) along with Rebecca’s soulful, crossover country vocal style with a natural vibrato. The Lovell sisters prowled the stage in full enjoyment mode.


Rebecca then exchanged her Strat for a silver-sparkle Fender Telecaster that glistened under the stage lights. Rebecca dedicated the song “I’m a Self-Made Man” (from the hit album Self Made Man) to “the girls out there who like to rock and roll.”  Rebecca’s “dropped tuning” along with “doubling” (a technique where a lead vocal and/or bass line follows the main guitar riff) gave the song a grunge band meets Muddy Waters ambience.


Never straying too far from their roots, Rebecca then paid respects to the often-overlooked blues legend Son House. On the Son House song “Preachin’ Blues,” (he was a preacher) Megan treated fans to a slow, soul-stirring slide guitar solo. Her “ballsy” (her word) tone is created with a German-made Rodenberg TB Drive pedal.  Rebecca uses one as well.  With strong supporting backup vocals from bassist Tarka Layman, the sister’s revealed themselves as two “old souls.”

Larkin Poe does crossover country as well as any Nashville band and their song “Georgia Off My Mind” was a reminder.


Goodbye Mom and Dad

Rebecca then spoke to the audience about winning a Grammy and their parents’ pride. She reminisced about being in their teens and telling their parents that they were forming a band and going on the road to strike gold – the basis for the song “Strike Gold.” “Sharpen my nails…tighten that belt…ride no coattails...gonna do it myself, do it myself.”


The band quickly transitioned into the song “Blue Ridge Mountains,” a celebration of life in the rural South, leaving the city and returning to their roots. They are true ambassadors of American roots music.


The band brought down the energy level with “Might as Well be Me,” the slowest and most sorrowful song of the evening, “I been there for you baby all along…giving love to you daily, making it strong, so strong. If you wanna hurt somebody, oh it might as well be me. Yeah, if you wanna do somebody wrong, oh it might as well be me.” Ouch! The song’s highlighted those gorgeous sister harmonies along with Megan’s Derek Trucks-influenced slide guitar work.



Big Bluesy Guitar Riffs

The Lovell sisters love big, bluesy guitar riffs and what they delivered on their next song. “Bad Spell” is what Led Zeppelin might sound like playing Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign.” Rebecca wrote “Bad Spell” as a response to the Screaming Jay Hawkins song “I Put A Spell on You.” By song’s end, the band had the crowd fully under their spell!


Larkin Poe put “pedal to the metal” for their final two songs. Reaching back to their 2017 album Peach, the women channeled Guns N’ Roses and Soundgarden with the twofer tune “Wanted Women/AC/DC.”  Rebecca scolds a suitor who has wasted his time on another woman: ‘Cause you blew it on somebody else, I hope you feel stupid for never, never, never, never wanting me.”


The band’s set concluded with “Bolt Cutters and the Family Name.” Beginning with a “Boogie Chillen’” style rhythm, the song goes 21st century with thick power chords, killer riffs and diva-like (in a positive way) vocal harmonies. At the song’s conclusion, the Lovell sisters raised their guitar necks in triumph before leaving the stage.


Surprise Jam!

Headlining the festival was Mike Campbell and the Dirty Knobs. As every Tom Petty fan knows, guitarist/vocalist Mike Campbell and drummer Steve Ferrone (both Rock and Roll Hall of Famers) were members of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Following a rocking and rousing set of mostly original material, Campbell and his band headed backstage and made the crowd earn an encore. I lost my voice, but it was worth it!

They ambled onstage followed by the Lovell sisters. The jam session delivered enormous dividends as the musicians broke into Tom Petty’s “You Wreck Me.”  It brought the house down. The crowd let out a roar when guitarist Tyler Bryant – Rebecca’s husband - joined the jam with the exuberance of man getting the keys to a new Lamborghini. Tyler has his own career with Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown.


“You Wreck Me” segued into the Skip James song “I’m So Glad” (made famous by Cream) before the musicians went for broke with Tom Petty’s “Runnin Down the Dream.”  The crowd was in a frenzy standing and dancing. Steve Ferrone invited Rebecca to hop on the drum riser where she played her guitar with unabashed glee. The musicians gave everything they had. They took closing bows. Not a soul who attended was wanting.  Don’t miss Larkin Poe when they come to your area.



Rebecca jams with Mike Campbell

In the meantime, you can hear Rebecca and Megan on their new Sirius/XM show "American Girls with Larkin Poe" on the Tom Petty Radio station, Ch. 31. Their show debuted July 1, 2024 and the sisters excitedly explored the roots of blue and rock; they played Bo Diddley, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Mamie Smith, Big Bill Broonzy, Chuck Berry and more. They explained the genesis of American music and how it influenced them and artists like Larkin Poe and Tom Petty.


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About the Author: Mark Plotnick is the co-author, with photographer Jim Summaria, of the book "Classic Rock".

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