Vancouver’s Real Ponchos released their debut album, the soulful, earthy, and immeasurably heartfelt Since I Let You Go, last May. On the strength of their full length and last year’s self-titled EP, the band was lucky enough to have embarked on a two-month excursion that took them all the way to Nova Scotia and through the rest of the Maritimes. Real Ponchos returned home on Sunday night, but they weren’t ready fully unwind yet.
As expected, friends and families gathered to celebrate with and congratulate Real Ponchos on their victory lap at Café Deux Soleils. Among the friendly faces was Ben Everyman, who opened the night with a solo acoustic set that was tightly packed with simple but sweetly memorable folk songs. Although he often plays with a full band, his songs worked just as well stripped to the essentials – the mark, many say, of a great song. Everyman rocked so hard by himself, in fact, he knocked the half -mannequin – the very one that never seems to leave his side – off of the edge of the stage where it was propped. SMACK it went onto the floor.
As fans swooped in to claim tables in front of the stage, a person behind me could be heard cracking to her friend: “These people are happy with their front row, until we start dancing!” And danced they did as the night wore on.
Real Ponchos got their set rolling with “Can’t Win ‘Em All”, just the beginning of a string of alt-country songs that drive steadily, never taking too much time to admire the passing scenery, but that make sure not to miss one beautiful moment.
By “Aged in Oak”, acoustic guitarist and one of the band’s principal songwriters, Emile Scott, had taken over vocal duties from their other principal songwriter, Ben Arsenault. (At this time, Ben focused on whipping the crowd into a dance fever on his electric guitar.) “Aged in Oak” slowed the pace, reflecting on sleepless drunken nights (“I’d trade in 50 new songs for 50 hangovers,” Emile sang), then drifted into an extended dreamy passage with reverb and harmonica. With so many moving parts, “Aged in Oak” had it all.
Real Ponchos also squeezed in two brand new songs, which were as much of hits as anything else in their repertoire, whether those songs were fit for cool nights on a low-lit porch with a couple of your best buds, a six-pack each, and nostalgia or filled with high-flying solos that elicit whistles from a crowd.
There’s no doubt how much people dig Real Ponchos, seeing fans push tables aside and juggle drinks while getting down on their own makeshift dance floor. There’s no doubt how much Real Ponchos feel what they sing and play, seeing Emile Scott squeeze his eyes shut and groove to their own melodies, and Ben Arsenault hop into the crowd’s dance-party and sing face-to-face with the band’s many adorers during their closing number.
Since I Let You Go was recorded live off the floor. Listening to the album, and then seeing Real Ponchos in person, you realize that these guys are the real deal: what you hear live is what you hear on the record, with the added energy of a living, moving, enthusiastic audience.
“We’re so stoked to be back home,” the bolo tie-sporting Ben Arsenault said, if I remember correctly, even before their first song. At that same moment, Real Ponchos’ biggest fan leaped out of his chair and caught his friend in his arms as she came running, both of them bursting with joy. It was with a similar loving grip and overflow of glee that Vancouver welcomed Real Ponchos home. And while it’s great to see home-grown talent strike off and find success abroad, it’s sometimes greater to have them back in our arms.