Gig Review: Hurray for the Riff Raff @ The Trinity Centre
by Polly Hember

“Now all the politicians, they just squawk their mouths / Said we’ll build a wall to keep them out / And all the poets were dying of a silence disease / So it happened quickly and with much ease,” Riff Raff songwriter Alynda Segarra sings in ‘Rican Beach’. In a Post-Trump, post-truth world where politics have launched us into a critically unstable and fraught social landscape, Hurray for the Riff Raff’s gigs act as soothing salvation and also a rallying battlecry. Singing with honestly, emotion and aggression, Segarra finishes ‘Rican Beach’ proclaiming “I’ll keep on fighting ‘til the end”. She is immune to the crippling “silence disease”, showcasing Hurray’s brilliant latest album The Navigator in Bristol’s Trinity Centre and asserting how modern protest music can be used to discuss and fight against prejudice, segregation, gentrification and marginalisation.

The Navigator is the Riff Raff’s sixth album – with a wealth of songs and a variety of styles to pick from, the band stuck mainly to their newest music. The Navigator is a concept album based on the adventures of young Puerto-Rican Navita growing up in a Gotham-like version of the Bronx who runs away from her identity and culture, falls under a spell where she wakes up forty years later in the same city, now unrecognisable due to mass gentrification and segregation. She runs away from her roots and then powerfully tries to rediscover them, succeeding in her quest at the dénouement of their album.

 

This is a narrative highly influenced by Puerto-Rican Segarra who grew up in New York that also carries sharp and striking commentaries on current global issues of segregation, oppression and inequality and also a personal and pervasive crisis of identity.

The Riff Raff’s live performance brings an insurmountable energy to their songs. One of the highlights of the night ‘Hungry Ghost’ saw Segarra remove the microphone stand from in front of her, put down her guitar and prance, dance and jump around the stage; eyes scrunched up in passion, fists clenched and headbanging along to the strong and fluid rhythms of drummer Greg Rogove. The Trinity Centre saw a fantastic and fierce version of ‘The Navigator’ which highlights themes of journeying, direction and loss thereof.

Presenting a glimpse at their new material, Segarra stated that this song was all brand new, ‘all four words of it’. ‘The Way You Are’ is a simple and powerful love song that is notably optimistic, supported by a deep and immensely enjoyable soundscape rich with keys, drums and electric guitar. It is solely populated by a repeated affirmation of “just the way you are”, ending affirmatively in “I love you, just the way you are”. With a five-piece strong band, the folk-rock collective sound fierce and loud. Phenomenal and slightly distorted heavy guitar work came from Jordan Hyde, who gives songs such as ‘Hungry Ghost’ and ‘Living in the City’ power that (just about) matches the Segarra’s raw energy. Sarah Goldstone was fantastic on keys, providing an emotive backdrop to rockier songs.

They saved ‘Pa’lante’ until the end. Segarra prepositioned this powerful protest piece with a brief explanation: ‘Pa’lante’ is a New World Spanish phrase that means ‘move forward’. She states, society is constantly telling us to “be something”, to make something out of ourselves, to “prove our worth on the planet earth and be something”. But, Segarra reminds us, that we shouldn’t feel like we must ‘make something’ out of ourselves, that we were born something – no – born someone. And we mustn’t forget that incredible fact.

I found myself missing a couple of favourite songs off their older albums; ‘The Body Electric’ I felt would have been particularly relevant in the aftermath of the New Yorker’s Harvey Weinstein expose. Called back on stage for an encore, they ended with a brilliant and surprising Springsteen cover – singing ‘Dancing in the Dark’, they closed the night on a high, with everyone at the front of the hall dancing and singing along.

With incredible stage presence, insurmountable passion, significant and truly meaningful songs, Hurray for the Riff Raff were nothing short of phenomenal. They encourage us to take care of ourselves, of each other. They reassure us that “I’ll keep on fighting ‘til the end” and urge us to pa’lante, to move forward, to keep on going.

Hurray for the Riff Raff performing Pa'lante for SXSW

Check out the Riff Raffs on social media

Image Credit: YouTube, Gigwise

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