When I returned home to the South earlier this month, Arlo Mckinley’s third album This Mess We’re In was one of my soundtracks as I wound my way through old haunts and fond memories. Seeing Mckinley at SLC’s Urban Lounge was like a brief reunion with my peoples.
Also he brought down some serious country jams.
Mckinley in Salt Lake City for the first time
Not only was this Arlo’s first time stopping in Zion, he told the crowd it was his first voyage west of the Colorado River. And he made every minute of it. Mckinley’s music is alt country without the alt; I hate to say southern rock because that sounds so Marshall Tucker Band-y, but it’s honestly not an INAPPROPRIATE label. Arlo absolutely has a Lynyrd Skynyrd thing going, and it’s amaze.
McKinley’s ballads are good but he is strongest when the band opens up and tears into the rock riffs. He brings all the guns: four guitars, including a pedal steel and slide guitar. When the pedal kicked in on opener “We Were Alright” from 2020’s Die Western, it was positively divine.
As the show started, Mckinley looked every bit a 200 South busker in a knit cap and hoodie, which he gradually shed to maintain body temperature. He played for fully 90 minutes on Wednesday. At times the show was tight and practiced, at other times oddly raw with elongated pauses between songs while fumbling with equipment and tuning guitars. He is sweet in his absence of guile, making ribald jokes and explaining to the audience this was his last song, “unless you make me play more. I guess that’s up to you.” It was an older, more subdued audience but they got him out for an encore.
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Arlo plays the hits + more!
Besides “We Were Alright,” highlights from his current album included “I Wish I” and “To Die For.” He also performed a bluesy, whiskey-soaked cover of Sinéad’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” and John Prine’s “Storm Windows.” The band gradually abandoned Arlo later in the show for several solo numbers then rejoined him for closer “To Die For.”
Thanks to his prompting, the crowd was able to coax him back onstage for two encores. This included the night’s highlight, a barnstorming eight-minute version of “Rushintherug.” It really showed off the power of the four guitar front including a blistering slide guitar solo and welcome graduation of driving percussion. Absolutely the top song performance I’ve seen all year. 5/5 stars would recommend.
Here is the studio version of “Rushintherug.”
Mckinley in Salt Lake City, a man of the people
If the audience was more subdued, it wasn’t hesitant to buy shots for Arlo and he wasn’t hesitant to oblige. After an hour and a half of drinking, playing and singing, Mckinley still spent time after the show shaking hands with fans and taking group photos. It really was sweet. It’s not every night you see someone willing to set aside the rock god persona to share laughs and hugs with the audience one on one.
Maybe it was my Southern bias, but I was smitten by his innocence. Look — I spend so much money on music, I NEVER buy merch. But it was Arlo’s first trip out West and I wanted to help pay for his trip home. So I bought an overpriced t-shirt, and you can too right here. Buy a shirt or a lid, definitely download This Mess We’re In and support an American original. Arlo’s upcoming tour dates after some photos.
Arlo Mckinley tour dates:
- 10/27 – Garden City (Boise), ID – Visual Arts Collective
- 10/29 – Whitefish, MT – Remington Bar
- 10/30 – Spokane, WA – Lucky You Lounge
- 11/3 – Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios
- 11/4 – Seattle, WA – Tractor Tavern
- 11/5 – Bend, OR – Volcanic Theatre
- 11/8 – San Francisco, CA – Bottom of the Hill
- 11/10 – Los Angeles, CA – Gold-Diggers
- 11/11 – San Diego, CA – Voodoo Room at House of Blues
- 11/13 – Pioneertown, CA – Pappy & Harriet’s