Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Burnt Letters, bringing the pain. Photo by Roisin Malone.
Retreat Hotel, 
Apr 5

For reasons best known to the venue’s management, tonight’s show takes place in the sardine-tin of the stage-less front bar rather than the spacious band room. What the place lacks in space and sight-lines, it more than makes up for in vibe, and, as tonight’s show teaches us, that’s what it’s all about.

Folk duo The Acfields are one of the least pretentious bands you’re ever likely to see, and playing to a room crowded to temperature and humidity bolstering capacity, their set seems like an accidental victory. The brother-sister combination of Dan and Hannah Acfield pen songs about their grandparents, their car and each other, each one leavened by their sterling harmonies. Freely chatting to the audience between (and during) songs, they trample all over the line between audience and band, giving instruments to the crowd and starting conversations. Songs like After You, Taking Your Time and Green Mazda earn a rapturous applause from a chipper crowd.

Opening a set with a sing-along of the traditional Down to the River to Pray is an ambitious move for an alt-country duo like Burnt Letters. If, however, you’ve brought along a swathe of the Melbourne Mass Gospel Choir, it turns out to be a smart one. After turning the pub into a church, singer-songwriters Lou Pine and Kinch Kinski replace the choir with a backing band (spontaneously named the Roughshod Angels by Kinski), and rip the tarp off a stellar set.

Quick Against the Moon, Sweet Face and Split in Two (a song about “The sort of women that stay up all night talking politics and drinking goon,”) show off the duo’s songwriting skills and the (Werckmeister-esque) harmonies. Acknowledging their influences both local and legendary in the rowdy East Brunswick Club and the band’s skills in building an atmosphere in Knotted Pine, it’s the crowd-rousing take on Son of a Preacher Man that gets the biggest response. A sense of humour and humility combined with songwriting and vocal talent this good is rare. To see it generate such an enthusiastic response is cockle-warming like a small town welcome. Closing with Talk to You, the opening track from the debut EP tonight’s show is launching, the choir return and Burnt Letters give us another emphatic example of inclusive warmth.

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