Alternating between Folk-Soul music and Psychedelic sea shanty The Higher Planes open another full Brudenell Social Club. Sporting cardigans, flat caps, beards and mutton-chop sideburns, the three men in the band provide the ardour and two swaying ladies harmonise deliciously while shaking tambourines over guitars, bass and drums. Reminiscent of The Commitments, especially vocally, throughout the set in their finale ‘Pirate Song’ the vocalists alternate lead and the Camberwell based band take us away on a drunken ship with joyous melodic chanting and vamping instrumentation.
The phenomenal Alynda Sagarra fronts Hurray for the Riff Raff like a renegade with her raw deep Country style vocal and Folk protesting intention. Adorned with a beret and pigtails she strides across front stage when breaking from acoustic guitar. Bass, drums, electric guitar and keys accompany her with sparse interludes between tracks compiling a collection of catchy and powerful tracks. Backing vocals and percussion are well balanced behind the mesmeric tone of the intense tales she has to tell.
Released in 2017, “Navigator” intertwines themes of travel, politics, feminism and personal roots. Sagarra yodels ‘Look at mama’ and in many songs references ‘daddy’. Sagarra’s father is the album artwork for 2012’s “Look Out Mama “and her parents are clearly an influential pair in her writing then and in the latest release. The title track is introduced as a ‘protest song’; Sagarra recalls the last time the band were in Leeds as when she ‘promised a certain someone wouldn’t make it to president…we’re doing the best we can’.
‘Hungry Ghost’ alludes to being a ‘lonely girl / ready for the world’ evolving from thumping bassline and ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl’ discusses looking for ‘some piece of ass’ over twinkling piano and cymbal rolls. Feminism is importantly weaved in every song along with Spanish elements; particularly introduced in the electric guitar style of ‘Rican Beach’ – a song about gentrification and people being pushed out of cities they themselves have helped build.
For a song about ‘travelling very far and working very hard just to get where you are’, Sagarra moves solo to piano and croons ‘Fourteen Floors’, with the lyrics ‘…up here in the sky I’ve been lying / Fourteen floors up here in the sky I’ve been crying’. Her soul is laid bare and the audience are immersed showing raucous appreciation.
Sagarra, from Puerto-Rican descent, performs ‘Pa’Lante’ in Spanish as their penultimate number. She explains the translation to ‘go forward and do it together’ relating it to Trump’s USA and the global need to help each other. The opening refrains ‘be something’ and after a rhythm and key change Sagarra dances and performs spoken word, uttering various Spanish names, listed as ‘the people who don’t live at all’. The band bounce off their energy and perfectly fluctuate as one.
Mass noises of approval draw Sagarra back on stage for a solo encore on acoustic guitar. Not one person in the room can look away, drawn into her powerful words voiced so well with her unique tone as she performs the title track of 2014’s “Small Town Heroes “with the captivating lyrics ‘She was the queen / She got all her drugs for free’.
The whole band return for the last song. ‘The Body Electric’ is a feminist song against murder ballads singing ‘What’s a man with a rifle in his hand going to do for a world that’s so sick and sad? He’s going to shoot me down / Put my body in the river’. Sagarra grew up in the Bronx and Hurray for the Riff Raff reside in New Orleans and are well qualified to preach their views.
All present acknowledge the band’s serious inspiration for driving a set of energetic songs fuelled by skilled artists. They use their material to teach and you can hear their intention loud and clear. Light instrumental touches add sparkle to the intense content and it’s a hip hip Hurray for the Riff Raff.