“Corpsing” is actor-speak for having an unscripted fit of laughter onstage : so-called because the worst time to suffer a fit of the giggles is when an actor is playing a corpse. The sort of corpse more readily associated with a venue called The Slaughtered Lamb however might be found in the film ‘An American Werewolf in London’ where two gauche American tourists visiting a pub of the same name are subject to a frosty welcome from inhospitable locals before being attacked outside by a werewolf. This is by way of introduction to the fact that at the midpoint of tonight’s gig Erin Rae and her main musical collaborator, Jerry Bernhardt, suffered an extended attack of the giggles that continued over the entire course of the song ‘Playing Old Games.’ Although something of an unprecedented occurrence, there was no frosty welcome for these visiting Americans, the audience happily indulgent throughout this episode, as well as the entirety of the whole set.
In the UK to showcase her latest album, ‘Putting On Airs,’ the songs from the new record are given extra weight with a full band performance in a way that’s not as readily apparent in the studio. Rae is both an engaging performer with a compelling voice, kicking things off with the ethereal sounding ‘Grand Scheme,’ about how small our concerns are in the cosmic scheme of things. The autobiographical nature of much of Rae’s material is evident in songs such as ‘Bad Mind’ – a wistful folk number about coming to terms with her own sexuality with Bernhardt wringing out the notes from his electric guitar on this song with a degree of real physicality. The other band members also show a suitable degree of restraint throughout, Mikey Sorbello on the drums resisting the temptation to overplay on material as gentle as this. ‘Clean Slate,’ probably the stand out song from her ‘Soon Enough’ album with the Meanwhiles, features next, a coming of age number about owning – and learning from – life’s mistakes. Like so much of her material, it shows remarkable lyrical dexterity for someone of relatively tender years. However, if anyone thought that Erin Rae sometimes runs the risk of overemphasising the whimsical at the expense of wider concerns then her introduction to ‘Putting On Airs,’ in which she says, “this song’s about being full of shit” soon puts paid to that. Such candour doesn’t detract from her ability to establish an intimate rapport with an eagerly attentive audience but only enhances it. Between songs, she includes asides such as her visit earlier in the day to E. Pellicci’s vintage cafe in Bethnal Green, the fried bread she’d consumed on the premises causing her to feel “bad about myself all day.”
‘Monticello,’ a story song about a troubled person longing for home but unable to return, is literal grist to the standard country song mill but has the ability to rise above the constraints of genre, with a sound that’s effectively able to combine the elements of traditional country/folk, alongside indie and 1960s psych rock. It’s followed by a number about which Rae says with more than a hint of irony, “this song’s going to be a little bit more upbeat, so buckle up” which precedes the only slightly more uptempo ‘Love Like Before.’
It’s on her performance of the song ‘Playing Old Games’ where Rae and Bernhardt surrender to a complete laughter breakdown and rather than abandon the song mid-way they battle through, apologising all the while, their winning personalities meaning the audience are more than happy to indulge them. If Rae is capable of considerable lyrical dexterity, then the penultimate rendition of ‘The Real Thing’ demonstrates Bernhardt’s virtuosity, with some far out techniques on the song’s guitar passages.
“Letting go of things that aren’t good for you” is how Rae describes the theme of the outstanding song of the evening, ‘Can’t Cut Loose,’ its echoey, swooning vocals accompanied by strumming guitar – a combination of melody and lyrics which blankets us all in a daydream-like atmosphere.
Personal growth and self-realisation are very much at the heart of Rae’s songcraft. And it’s in her ability to explore the minutiae of human relationships that she clearly excels. Signed to the Single Lock record label which has an impressive roster of acts, Erin Rae is in good company but also more than capable of holding her own: simple songs told exceptionally well, with impeccably crafted melodies. Erin Rae is making music for herself, first and foremost, while trying to come to terms with her own place in the world. And we’re more than willing spectators and listeners.