The Rickshaw Stop was decently full for a Thursday night. After the bass-heavy, lamenting melodies of opener Somme, the audience was in mixed stages of conversation and anticipation. Over the speakers, vaguely familiar pop and hip-hop hits fell on seemingly inattentive ears — the audience loosely crowded around the stage. There was a subtle buzz in the room, and it was becoming increasingly clear that the crowd was ready for something magical to happen.
The Toronto-based artist walked onto the stage, bathed in a mix of pinks and blues, with a three-piece band: keyboard, percussion and bass. Performing with a mixture of track and live instruments gave Ralph the ability to harmonize with herself. And while this had the potential of being a watered-down performance, the mix of live and prerecorded music proved to be perfect for the small venue. As an opener for headliner Flint Eastwood, Ralph’s first time in San Francisco was met by a surprisingly eager audience.
The intimate Rickshaw Stop crowd thickened over the course of Ralph’s set, and if the audience wasn’t won over by her nostalgic pop anthems, it was her adorable conversation that did the trick. As an entrance to “For Yourself,” Ralph gave the audience words of encouragement, echoing the song’s core themes of self-love. It was not only endearing, but also proved to be a prevailing theme over the course of the night.
Ralph treated the crowd to the entirety of her recent album release, A Good Girl. Almost every song was preceded by a little bit of background on its inspiration. Her charisma was infectious, and audience chatter between her numbers was telling of the crowd’s appreciation for the up-and-coming artist.
Ralph was like a cool older sister, and her lyrics were relatable and engaging. By the middle of her set, there was a pleasant familiarity in Ralph’s presence. But this extended past the audience’s acquaintance with the songstress.
Even her aesthetic was a quintessential blending of Ralph’s own style and nostalgia. From the moment Ralph took the stage in a leopard halter, coral cargos and platform sneakers, it was evident that ‘90s and early 2000s pop influence would take a front seat in the show.
While her songs were often simple and reminiscent of pop royalty such as the Spice Girls, her spin on the pop genre puts her in league with heavyweight contemporary artists such as Carly Rae Jepsen. She’s one with those who are leading the charge on the genre’s resurgence.
Ralph’s music was more than the melody you’ve heard on the radio a million times before. Over the course of the night, her sound proved to bring nuance to the often formulaic genre – an upbeat coalescence of nostalgia and Ralph’s own unique musicality. Ralph has described her sound as synth-pop-disco-soul. This is an ambitious blend that she accomplishes with ease. With songs such as “Gimme,” Ralph defines her sound as one prone to subtle diversity and makes listening to not only A Good Girl but the whole of her discography a new and enjoyable experience each time.
In a night filled with powerful women and strong performance, Ralph’s set was one of danceable hits that could appeal to even the most stoic person’s desire to move. And move they did. From gentle swaying in more solemn numbers such as “September Fades” to trying to emulate the band’s choreographed moves during “Tables Have Turned,” the audience was engaged. Among the palpable chemistry Ralph shared with her band, her ability to connect with her audience and her consistent and evident talent, it was clear she loves what she does.
Ralph was a refreshing addition to the night’s lineup — her tunes were evocative of the ease of a summer night and were the perfect punctuation to the slightly warmer than usual temperatures that have been filling the Bay Area of late. Ralph’s “Weather” asks, “Who knows, who knows what happens come October?” and her performance was the perfect answer. With a demonstrated command of pop music, Ralph is making a name for herself as a titan of up-and-coming pop.