I’m not normally a fan of devastatingly sexy singers with incredible voices and rousing lyrics, but for Hurray for the Riff Raff I’ll make an exception.
The musical project of Alynda Segarra, the band are a smoky fusion of Americana, blues-rock and folk. The pint-sized singer has a commanding stage presence and often makes her political views known, praising the organisers of March for Our Lives and sending a call-to-arms to her Puerto Rican people.
The stand-out of a very strong set is ‘Pa’lante’, a six-minute opus that changes gears throughout, shape-shifting like a movie musical number, and rising to a crescendo that makes your hairs stand on end. It’s a mighty piece of songwriting. The show closes with Segarra gyrating through a cover of the Boss’ ‘Dancing in the Dark’, and you can sense Springsteen’s influence in the sonic widescreen scope of her songwriting.
Earlier in the day, The Teskey Brothers receive a rapturous response to their soulful, influence-on-sleeve sound. Singer Josh Teskey has one of those gravelled voices that’s custom-made for the genre. ‘Pain and Misery’is a stand-out and we get a taste of things to come with ‘Forever You and Me’.
The Teskeys are followed by another set of siblings, Hanlon Brothers, who prove themselves the ultimate party band, delivering a heady mix of neo-soul, hip hop and RnB.
British legends Gomez make a much welcome return to Australia, who have always had a distinctly dusty American sound for a bunch of lads from Southport. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of debut record Bring it On, the stellar five-piece delivered a set of crowd favourites like ‘Whippin’ Piccadilly’, ‘Get Myself Arrested’, and the epic ‘We Haven’t Turned Around’ from 1999’s ‘Liquid Skin’.
Senegalese music legend Youssou N’Dour’s infectious music, alive with rhythm, has a large crowd moving on their feet before Prince’s backing band since 1990 until his death, The New Power Generation, arrive on the Mojo stage for a slick-as-fuck, no-holds-barred show of soul, funk, rock and, of course, innumerable Prince classics. The crowd comes alive for ‘Raspberry Beret’, ‘1999’, ‘Cream’ and ‘Kiss’, and the requisite ‘Purple Rain’. Prince’s spirit was in the air and the reverence was palpable.
There’s no doubting that Bluesfest promoter Peter Noble was a brave man for booking Ms Lauryn Hill, the famously unreliable but phenomenally gifted neo-soul singer and rapper. For many that fill the Mojo stage tent awaiting her arrival, there’s an air of curiosity – will she show up? For the first half hour, that question dangles above us, as a DJ is sent out to play a fairly bland selection of hip-hop club classics. After twenty minutes the crowd turns on this poor fellow, baying for Ms Hill to show up, and the choice cuts of Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre can’t save him. He’s a lamb to the slaughter, especially because he keeps addressing the staunch Byron Bay crowd as “Brisbane”. This is tantamount to pissing in our eye.
A full thirty minutes past her designated set-time, Ms Lauryn Hill does grace us with her presence. It might be twenty years since her landmark record, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, made its indelible mark on mainstream soul and hip-hop, but the mercurial singer still carries a mystical air. We’re given four songs from her legendary record, ‘Everything is Everything’, ‘Ex-Factor’, ‘Final Hour’ and ‘Lost Ones’, before we get into the Fugees material. ‘How Many Mics’, ‘Fu-Gee-La’, ‘Ready or Not’ and the famous cover of ‘Killing Me Softly’. For much of the set Hill is distracted, constantly looking at the foldback mixer and requesting some minor adjustment with a hurried hand signal. It’s off-putting to a viewer, but if you close your eyes that vocal gift makes itself apparent.
In contrast, Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters give a transfixing performance. Hearing that iconic voice emerge from the Led Zeppelin frontman remains a wholly surreal experience, especially when he tantalizingly touched on the material of that band. We’re given ‘The Lemon Song’ as the opener and ‘That’s the Way’ from Led Zeppelin III. They’re never faithful renditions, however, with Plant and his band reinterpreting the songs in dreamy, Eastern influences. The set proper closes with ‘Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You’, the song by Joan Baez that Zeppelin so epically covered, before an encore that fuses ‘Bring it On Home’ with ‘Whole Lotta Love’. A majestic show, but a continued tease for those generations that yearn for a Zeppelin reunion. C’mon, Bobby.