Hurray for the Riff Raff
Evanston SPACE July 7 2014
Opening act: Dance Bullies
I am a cynical person. I have been compared to this cat. A professor in college called me “curmudgeonly.” As such, it’s rare that I go to a show that has any sort of profound effect on me. I love music that I love, but being around a bunch of other sweaty, shoving, obnoxious bearded assholes like myself to hear something I could hear better at home, doesn’t usually appeal to me.
Full disclosure: I already knew that I enjoyed Alynda Lee Segarra’s music. A friend told me to listen to her band’s song, “The New SF Bay Blues” earlier this year and I immediately went and found every song I could by Hurray for the Riff Raff. So when I heard she was going to be playing in Evanston, somewhere I could walk to from my house, I really had no excuse not to go. But I wasn’t expecting much.
In a the back room of an expensive pizza shop in an expensive suburb of Chicago, I am watching a small woman of Puerto Rican descent who was born in the Bronx, who spent her youth going to punk shows on the Lower East Side, traveled across Germany and now lives in New Orleans, sing folk songs. I text my friend who is running late to hurry up because Segarra is on stage and she is doing something beautiful.
The lights are off apart from a single spotlight on Segarra. She says her band will be out in a minute, but first she wants to sing a song on her own. She sings “The New SF Bay Blues” and it is perfect.
There’s something about listening to someone who is the same age as you, who has lived more fully than you ever will, singing with poise and beauty and grace and honesty that makes you realize she will haunt you tomorrow, next week, and when you’re in your mid-thirties, wondering how you ended up in this cubicle worrying about mortgage payments and daycare costs.
Segarra has the stage presence of folk singers from generations before her. She jokes about writing traveling songs while being on tour, so that’s what she’s going to sing. She asks the crowd if they’re following the World Cup as closely as she is. Three guys in Germany jerseys nodded along. She tells the audience that the band brings a piece of wood from their hometown of New Orleans that they put on stage, so they can dance on a small part of New Orleans, wherever they are. Segarra is a musician out of time.
Segarra said she wanted to write a murder ballad because they’re always written by men and women are always getting killed. There’s a whole separate story that could be written about Hurray for the Riff Raff’s subversion of traditional tropes in folk music, and that band as a whole identifies as queer, but I couldn’t do any of that justice. To me, while Segarra was singing “The Body Electric,” it just reminded me of Jack White’s cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” – a great rendition of a famous country song where the fact that the gender roles were reversed seemed irrelevant.
Segarra was backed on stage by a competent band – a strong fiddler, a guy on keys, one on an upright bass, and a guy on drums. They helped bring Segarra’s songs to life, bring them to a place where you want to stomp along with each chugging bass line and fiddle riff. I wondered as they played “Western Cowboy” what it would’ve been like to see Bob Dylan and the Band at some random tour stop in the Rust Belt in 1972 and if I would’ve felt like I felt right now.
I doubt that Segarra will ever become a voice of a generation, or that those really ever take the form of musicians any more, or if that even matters. But there was something I felt that night that was not dissimilar for the myriad times I’d listened to The Last Waltz – get out of here; explore the world – you have not seen enough, you have not felt enough to be content with where you are.
At the end of the evening, Segarra and her traveling band would leave Evanston. I think their next show was somewhere bigger. I had to go back to being a grad student with debt and no job prospects in a dorm that smells like old shrimp.
The performance was too short for me. The band played for about 90 minutes, but I wanted to hear them play everything they ever recorded, just to say I’d heard it live. I guess this is how people are supposed to feel at concerts.
Taste of Chicago, this evening.
Andy Greenwald, on George Costanza’s role in Seinfeld.
Sounds about right.
Who Owns Media (US Edition)
Via Gizmodo, which also includes graphics on what brands own what consumer goods, consolidation in financial markets, what auto makers own what cars, and what breweries make what beer… which is important.
Images: Studios and media companies (top), and TV stations (bottom). Select to embiggen.
Everything is everything else now!
All of New York, and some tourists.
From the top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, NYC, last Saturday.
Points if you spot the girl who appears three times.
I look back on the days I averaged only thirty thousand steps, and think, Honestly, how lazy can you get?
I feel this way about my Jawbone UP.
I can’t wait for my (fourth) replacement to get here. Doing any activity seems pointless right now when my pointless points are not being counted. Which is bad, because I’m supposed to be training for a half marathon that’s in a month.
I just wish the damn thing would stop breaking so often.
Futuristic technologies have never sounded more like they’re right on the horizon. From lab-grown meat to virtual reality to fleets of drones that can transport goods almost anywhere, scientists…
What does the future of entrepreneurship look like in Chicago? One company in the West Loop is aiming to help residents figure that out.
Check out my story on The Starter League - a code school in Chicago that’s helping the next generation of entrepreneurs take their ideas and turn them into realities.
The legend of the greatest video game flop in history has persisted for three decades: In late 1982, Atari released E.T. for the Atari 2600 system. The game was so poorly received that the company allegedly consigned “millions” (that number varies) of unsold copies to a landfill in New Mexico.
so none of the articles about this (odd) event seem to touch on e-waste and that they just dug up some barely dusty looking plastic games that have been buried for 20 years.