February 29, 2024 The Atlantis Doors 6:30 pm

Hurray For The Riff Raff


Feb 29 (Thu)

Doors 6:30 pm All Ages


Venue Information

(202) 265-0930

2047 9th St NW
Washington, DC 20001

Hurray For The Riff Raff

Official Band Site

Alynda Segarra is 36, or a little less than halfway through the average American lifespan. In that comparatively brief time, though, the Hurray for the Riff Raff founder has been something of a modern Huck Finn, an itinerant traveler whose adventures prompt art that reminds us there are always other ways to live.

Born in the Bronx and of Puerto Rican heritage, Segarra was raised there by a blue-collar aunt and uncle, as their father navigated Vietnam trauma and their mother neglected them to work for the likes of Rudy Giuliani. They were radicalized before they were a teenager, baptized in the anti-war movement and galvanized in New York’s punk haunts and queer spaces. At 17, Segarra split, becoming the kid in a communal squat before shuttling to California, where they began crisscrossing the country by hopping trains. They eventually found home—spiritual, emotional, physical—in New Orleans, forming a hobo band and realizing that music was not only a way to share what they’d learned and seen but to learn and see more. Hurray for the Riff Raff steadily rose from house shows to a major label, where Segarra became a pan-everything fixture of the modern folk movement. But that yoke became a burden, prompting Segarra to make the probing and poignant electronic opus, 2022’s Life on Earth, their Nonesuch debut. Catch your breath, OK? We’re back to 36, back to now.

During the last dozen years, these manifold tales of Segarra’s voyages have shaped an oral folklore of sorts, with the teenage vagabonding or subsequent trainhopping becoming what some may hear about Hurray for the Riff Raff before hearing the music itself. Segarra has dropped tidbits in songs, too, but they always worried that their experiences were too radical, that memories of dumpster diving or riding through New Orleans with a dildo dangling on an antenna were too much. But on The Past Is Still Alive, Segarra finally tells the story themselves, speckling stirring reflections on love, loss, and the end or evolution of the United States with foundational scenes from their own life. “It felt like a trust fall, or a letting go of this idea of proving something to the music industry—how I can be more digestible, modifiable, sellable,” Segarra says. “I feel like I’m closer to what I actually have to share.”

There is, for instance, sex and communal musicmaking on an island of San Francisco trash during “Snake Plant (The Past Is Still Alive),” a charged attempt to reckon the erosion of our childhood innocence with a belief that a worthwhile future is still possible. Or there are the cops and the trains and the long walks down empty Nebraska highways to escape said cops during “Ogalla,” the cathartic closer that tries to maintain the spirit of the past while actually surviving in the now. The Past Is Still Alive is the record of Segarra’s life so far, not only because it chronicles the past to understand the present but also because it is the most singular and magnetic thing Hurray for the Riff Raff have yet made. A master work of modern folk-rock, The Past Is Still Alive resets the terms of that tired term.

In March 2023, when Segarra returned to the North Carolina studio of producer Brad Cook to cut The Past Is Still Alive, they weren’t so sure about the session, if they could even handle it. Only a month before, their father, Jose Enrico (Quico) Segarra, had died. A musician himself, he had long been fundamental to Segarra’s songs, a point of inspiration and encouragement. What’s more, Segarra had made Life on Earth with Cook, and drummer Yan Westerlund had long toured in Hurray for the Riff Raff. But much of the band they’d assembled for these sessions—guitarist Meg Duffy, fiddler Libby Rodenbough, saxophonist Matt Douglas, multi-instrumentalist Phil Cook—were unknown quantities. At the edge of catastrophe and in the headlock of grief, could Segarra share these bone-deep songs among strangers? “The songwriting is what drove me. I didn’t feel the need to try to transform,” Segarra reckons. “It felt like the truth of where I was at in my life—very vulnerable, very fair, very raw.”

Segarra simply let those complex feelings lead the way, hurling themselves into these excavations of memory and blueprints for what’s to come. Witness, for instance, the tensile resolve in opener “Alibi,” a yearning reflection on addicted childhood friends that pleads with them to join the land of the living while they still can. As the pedal steel moans beneath the snappy country shuffle, their voice frays, a testament to the way they’re bearing difficult witness. That call to survival returns in “Snake Plant,” a song so stuffed with specific childhood memories—scenes from family road trips to Florida, snapshots from discovering oneself on the edge of the world—that Segarra feels like an actual tour guide. “Test your drugs/remember Narcan,” they sing toward the end. “There’s a war on the people/What don’t you understand?” The demand is graceful and winning, not pedantic, lived-in advice from someone who has managed to live when so many friends have not.

This quest to live in spite of outside attempts to kill us off animates “Colossus of Roads,” at once the most devastating and uplifting entry in the entire Hurray for the Riff Raff catalogue. Written like an urgent dispatch after the Club Q shooting in Colorado, it is a paean to the outsiders, a love song for the vulnerable—the queer, the homeless, the radical. Their voice taut as a piece of barbed wire, Segarra deploys poet Eileen Myles and boxcar artist BuZ blurr (the Colossus of Roads himself) to suggest a sanctuary of solidarity for the dispossessed. The United States as we know it can and probably should dissolve, they seethe; as it all comes down, though, Segarra asks to “wrap you up in the bomb shelter of my feather bed.” Brilliantly written and rendered, it is an anthem for a dawning age of collective liberation. “I’ve only had this experience a couple of times, where a song falls on me—it’s all there, and I don’t do anything,” Segarra admits. “It felt like creating a space where all us outsiders can be safe together. That doesn’t exist, but it exists in our minds, and it exists in this song.” 

Throughout The Past Is Still Alive, Segarra suggests the profound ability to navigate all this pain, chaos, and trauma, or at least to meet it with senses of wonder and want. To wit, the delightful “Buffalo” uses the iconic American mammal that Americans almost drove to extinction as a metaphor for a new love; can it survive the pressures of society? A duet with Conor Oberst, “The World Is Dangerous” is a heartbroken waltz that still offers to hold someone close, if and when they’re ready.

And even as Segarra tells the tale of the first trans women they ever met, Miss Jonathan in New Orleans, and the beatings they took during “Hawkmoon,” they seem to beam, advocating for a better world yet to come. “I’m becoming the kind of girl that they warned me about,” Segarra sings at the end with devilish aplomb, proud to be carrying on Miss Jonathan’s work of upending norms, whether by sharing Miss Jonathan’s story or simply taking up space for themselves and their own multitudes.

It is especially fraught these days to speak of art in terms of national identity, to flirt with a jingoism that has led to new autocrats and rekindled old wars. But in the best ways possible, The Past Is Still Alive is a distinctly American record, built on twin pillars of peril and promise that have forever been foundational to this country. 

The wanderlust that leads to piñon fires near the pueblos of New Mexico’s high desert and all-night escapades in New Orleans. The independence that shapes communities of like-minded outcasts, looking after one another. The inequality that makes such enclaves essential, that makes one of us eat out of garbage and the other with a silver spoon: It is all tragically and beautifully bound inside The Past Is Still Alive. Just as Louise Erdrich has done of late with Native Americans, Lonnie Holley with African-Americans, and Julie Otsuka with Asian-Americans, Segarra expands the scope of American stories here, stretching a long-safeguarded circle to encompass outsiders forever on the fringes. “The past is still alive/The root of me lives in the ballast by the mainline,” Segarra sings at one point, sweeping their days of riding rails directly into whatever success they have found now. Hurray for the riff raff, indeed.


Official Band Site

NNAMDÏ has never been able to stay in one place. The Chicago multi-instrumentalist and songwriter set a blistering pace in 2020 with his critically acclaimed genre-fusing LP Brat, a punk EP Black Plight, and Krazy Karl, a full-length tribute to Looney Tunes composer Carl Stalling. Add in his role as co-owner of label Sooper Records, as well as recent tours with Wilco, Sleater-Kinney, black midi, and Jeff Rosenstock and it’s an overwhelming schedule. However, his latest album, Please Have A Seat (out 10/07/22 via Secretly Canadian / Sooper Records), is the result of a much-needed pause.

“I realized I never take time to just sit and take in where I’m at,” says NNAMDÏ. “It’s just nice to not be on ‘Go, Go, Go!’ mode, and reevaluate where I wanted to go musically.” This period of reflection allowed him to take stock of his life and his relationships. “I wanted to be present,” he says. “Each song came from a moment of clarity.” Please Have A Seat serves as an invitation to listen. It’s a request to sit down, be present, and take in a moment. With this quiet introspection, NNAMDÏ found inspiration in silence and nuance.

While making the record, he decided to stretch the limits of his pop songwriting: every track had to be hummable. Though he’s written earworms throughout his career from playing in bands in Chicago’s DIY community or releasing goofy raps as Nnamdi’s Sooper Dooper Secret Side Project, here, his shapeshifting hooks are undeniable. Each of the album’s fourteen songs, which NNAMDÏ wrote, produced, and performed entirely himself, are relentlessly replayable, careening into unexpected and disorienting places. With NNAMDÏ’s singular vision, Please Have A Seat is yet another leap from Chicago’s hardest working musician. By taking a minute to sit down and catch his breath, he reemerged with the most ambitious, accessible, and nuanced work of his career.