Perhaps sharing a similar demographic it was Sod’s Law that on this warm and humid evening two amazing acts from Louisiana were visiting Norwich at the same time, Lucinda Williams at UEA and Hurray for the Riff Raff at the Arts Centre. It didn’t seem to affect the attendance at NAC too much though with a decent sized audience for a gig I had been very excited about.
At just after 8pm the opening act started up their set, Hymn for Her who played at Maverick at the weekend. They certainly made an impression here too and got people dancing with their infectious “punksy, folksy, airstreamy, country, bluesy, grassy, waynesy lucy take you on a hayride to hellsy” musical journey. Living and travelling in a 1961 Airstream bus they seem to live and breathe their music and beliefs. Lucy proudly proclaiming that her yellow and green “Live Simply” t-shirt was Norwich colours, their support slot was as impressive as anything I’ve seen in a while. Belting out dirty country blues on guitar, drums, blues harp and a three-string cigar box guitar. Inviting their nine year old daughter onstage for a delightful performance in their penultimate song of the set they then blew the roof off with an absolutely stunning finale that wowed the audience. They certainly made a big impression and created a strong buzz, they did that magical musical thing to me of making me feel so good and buzzing. I chatted to Tori from Hot Raisin between bands and she found exactly the same thing. Some were so taken with them after their gigs at Maverick and Woodbridge that they headed up to Norwich for another dose of the band. Tonight Hymn for Her play the Green Note in Camden.
Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Segarra is originally from the Bronx, of Puerto Rican descent, (hence the flag backdrop) and arrived at her current home of New Orleans via riding the rails for a couple of years after leaving New York at the age of 17. It seems that discovering America through hopping freight trains has manifested a musical absorption of the country’s musical history and heritage in Alynda and it all comes out in her own beautiful music (there are mentions of John Henry, and Delia’s Gone in her lyrics). It is her masterful twist on the traditional murder ballad where the woman is always the victim where Alynda turns things around to the incredible Body Electric that was the moment I really bought into Hurray for the Riff Raff. This of course was one of the set highlights, which she dedicated to all those lost recently in Orlando, ” … and everyone just fighting for the right to walk down the street and be who they are … “
The night before the gig I was watching some of the band’s videos on YouTube but found myself wanting more and chanced upon some full concerts which had me watching and listening til 5am, that’s how much this band grab me. I was pleased she played a number of my favourites in Norwich, as well as Body Electric we had Blue Ridge Mountain, and Look Out Mama with some new ones interspersed throughout the set, tasters for the next album which will arrive in the winter. A visible sign of her love and appreciation for John Lennon was the tattoo of his glasses on her arm and indeed she has composed a homage in John and Yoko.
Although I’d have loved to have heard the fiddle and banjo on some of these songs live this was still a tremendous gig, the band were tight and there was a lot of love in the room. A fascinating act, all of Alynda’s influences and experiences come though in her music from her travelling and punk and doowop past to the infusion of her home city’s vibe into her own sound. Her intelligent and moving songwriting and the variety in tempo keeps the listener transfixed. Fans of Gillian Welch, Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and even the Stanley Brothers and Rainbow Girls will surely adore Hurray for the Riff Raff. There’s also a touch of the PJ Harveys about her which I hadn’t picked up on before. At the end of the set she played a gorgeous St. Roch Blues, for the ghosts of lost loved ones, and a plea for peace. It had a haunting A Change is Gonna Come feel and was beautifully moving, it also reminded me a bit of Rainbow Girls’ Can We Keep This Love Alive. To close the evening there was a nice touch for the encore which was as a cover of a song only a little bit older than me, The Ronettes’ Be My Baby.
Afterwards I bumped into a couple who had travelled up from Brighton just for this gig, as well as other dates in Leicester and Cardiff. It’s easy to see how Hurray for the Riff Raff can inspire such devotion. It was a special pleasure to see them play in the intimate setting of our beloved Arts Centre.
More photos to follow…
Many thanks to NAC, Hurray for the Riff Raff, and Hymn for Her.
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