"...it’s great to see the band choosing to return to Brudenell to launch their latest European tour in support of the new record, emerging in front of a packed venue to the Nina Simone classic ‘I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free’."
Last year Alynda Lee Segarra proclaimed to an enraptured Brudenell audience that there was no way Donald Trump was going to be elected president. Tonight, the driving force behind Hurray for the Riff Raff is quick to hold her hand up for that one, admitting ‘We’ve totally fucked up’. Fortunately her beautifully crafted songs of defiance and hope can more than make up for that faux-pa; after all, she was not alone in that prediction.
Following the release of the thought provoking and inspirational new Riff Raff album ‘The Navigator’, part concept, part protest, part homage to Segarra’s Puerto Rican roots, yet boasting a more contemporary sound than its (also excellent) folky predecessor ‘Small Town Heroes’, critical acclaim has deservedly followed, garnering plenty of enthusiastic reviews on both sides of the pond. I for one won’t be surprised if ‘Navigator’ doesn’t find itself on the next Grammy shortlist and it’s great to see the band choosing to return to The Brudenell to launch their latest European tour in support of the new record, emerging in front of a packed venue to the Nina Simone classic ‘I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free’. Simone is clearly one of a long line of modern day troubadours to have inspired Segarra’s compositions and, considering the turbulent times in her homeland at the moment, the higher profile her music becomes, the better.
Not surprisingly, the new material dominates tonight’s Riff Raff set as we’re firstly treated to the shimmering power pop of ‘Life To Save’, the heartfelt musings of ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl’ complete with delicious coda, the straight ahead groover ‘Hungry Ghost’ and the ode to anti-gentrification ‘Rican Beach’. Completing the quintet is title track ‘The Navigator’, another ballad about displacement, whilst also drawing on Segarra’s hobo past.
What becomes quickly apparent is how well the new long-player tracks hold up live, the band as tight as a drum, expertly fronted by Alynda, demonstrably at ease on stage warming up the audience nicely, occasionally smiling to herself mid-song, her voice rich and sharp, displaying her vulnerable and defiant sides in equal measure.
The band’s earlier tunes also stand up really well, including the delightfully disposable surfer rock of ‘Lake Of Fire’, a hugely enjoyable and surprisingly authentic slice of Appalachian folk ‘Blue Ridge Mountain’, and the barnstorming yodel fest of ‘Look Out Mama’ indicating a fine back catalogue just waiting to be plundered by yours truly.
Closing numbers bring us back to her latest release as Segarra switches to piano for the bittersweet sparseness of ‘Fourteen Floors’ before closing with its magnum opus ‘Pa’lante’, a three-part vaudevillian tribute to the 1970s New York newspaper published by the city’s Puerto Rican nationalist community; the fire in Alynda’s belly almost palpable as she delivers every word as if it’s her last.
Emerging alone for a final brace, firstly the beautifully intimate tale of love and loss ‘Small Town Heroes’, Alynda is re-joined by her cohorts for the hauntingly beautiful finale, an award winning murder ballad titled ‘The Body Electric’.
One of the finds of 2017.
Words - Mike Price