Hurray For The Riff Raff, Slow Dancer @ Factory Theatre, March 26th 2018
Back for the first time since their Newtown Social Club show in 2014, Hurray For The Riff Raff were upsized to the much larger Factory Theatre, an overly ambitious punt by the promoter given that their profile hasn’t risen greatly in the intervening years. It showed too, with a crowd that probably only filled a third of the venue.
Slow Dancer had the task of serenading the early arrivals and despite this reviewer not finding much to like at a previous show of his there was much that impressed about this one. Alone onstage with just guitar and microphone, Simon Okely cut a haunting figure, that lonesome and melancholic, soulful folk voice seeping out across the dark room, dotted figures swaying in attentive time. His guitar went to some interesting places with effects adding otherworldly tones and grainy textures that give character and depth to the songs, which included a quite wonderful version of The Temptations’ ‘My Girl’.
Hurray For The Riff Raff is essentially the moniker for Alynda Segarra and the changing coterie of musicians she brings into her orbit to bring her songs to life. Her current band is completely different to the one that featured on Small Town Heroes which may explain why she didn’t play any songs from that album tonight. Her current album The Navigator is a different musical beast and the focus was firmly on that collection of songs.
If in the past Segarra was firmly in the folk and country camp, now she’s spread her wings and draws on a whole world of influences, particularly a stronger strain of her Puerto Rican roots in the rhythms and her vocal delivery. There are politics both personal and societal in Segarra’s work and she balances art and protest cleverly. Nothing comes across as hollow sloganeering, you know she means it when she introduces Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl with a tribute to the divine female energy in all of us and when they play the new song (based on Langston Hughes poem) Kid’s That Die for only the second time, she talks about “kids being the future and they’re fierce.” Segarra is spending less time playing guitar on this tour, leaving her excellent band to conjure up swampy rock ’n’ roll latin soul songs as she took the mic and owned the stage with a physicality of expressions and vibrant dance moves. It made a difference and boosted the energy level in the somewhat lifeless space of the venue. It all came to a head with the infectious shakedown of Rican Beach, the breezy melodic rush of Living In The City and the epic sweep of Pa’lante, recalling a defiant and energised Patti Smith. The encore left us with smiles and loose limbs as they ran through a great version of Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark. In Segarra’s words, “The only boss I answer to!”