Live Review: Ralfe Band + Piney Gir at The Sebright Arms, Bethnal Green

Ralfe Band recently emerged from a five year hiatus with new single ‘Sweating It Out‘ and with tonight marking their first live performance since headlining a stage at Truck Festival in 2014 there’s a buzz of anticipation around a packed Sebright Arms.

First though we’re treated to a set from someone we’ve seen rather more recently – Piney Gir, who was kind enough to have invited me on as a guest on her excellent Soho Radio show The Other Woman just this week (you can listen back here).  Tonight sees her perform with a stripped back line-up, shorn of her usual rhythm section but joined by guitarist Garo, a pair of backing singers and plenty of hand percussion.  This set-up makes up for what it loses in volume by bringing their sumptuous harmonies to the fore, breathing new life into songs taken from Piney’s recent album You Are Here along with a sprinkling of favourites from earlier releases.  ‘The Great Pretend’ and ‘Ugly Bones’ are spine-tinglingly spooky, new single ‘Puppy Love’s bitter-sweet pop shimmers in the extra space, and ‘Peanut Butter Malt Shop Hearthrob’s doo-wop core is brought finger-clicking and swooning to the surface.  The swelling crowd making their way down from the upstairs bar visibly and audibly melt as the set proceeds, climaxing with an arcane ‘Longest Day of Spring’ and by the end the entire room is under Piney’s spell.

Piney Gir Sebright Arms (4) (Medium)
As Ralfe Band kick off their return to the live music scene with a swinging vaudevillian instrumental I find myself with a familiar feeling – a couple of years back I was at The 100 Club for a show at which I was a big fan of support act Chris T-T, but had only the most casual acquaintance with the songs of headliner Jim Bob.  It made for a fascinating experience as the overwhelming affection that flowed between audience and performer lit up the room, and rather than feeling like an outsider I was carried along on the waves of warmth and togetherness.

It’s apparent from the off that the people here tonight have been waiting a long time for a chance to hear these songs performed live once again and as heads nod, eyes are closed in reverence and words are sung or mouthed along with Oly Ralfe and his band, I’m once again enveloped by that same feeling.

It’s not hard to see how this bond has been formed – the songs are cleverly written and full of humour but never at the cost of emotional honesty, the musicianship is impeccable but there’s just enough slack in their playing to prevent it from feeling mechanical and there are ample forays away from their indie heartlands into realms of folk, Balkan swing and country to keep things interesting throughout an hour long set plus extended encore which is enthusiastically lapped up by a crowd starved of these tunes for half a decade.  Let’s hope they don’t have to wait quite so long to hear them again.

Ralfe Band Sebright Arms (4) (Medium)

Review and Photography by Paul Maps

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