Rainbow Kitten Surprise plays a purrfect set
Andrew Cameron | Wednesday, February 1, 2017
For better or for worse, the first thing people typically notice about North Carolina-native five-man act Rainbow Kitten Surprise (RKS) is their name. Walking to Legends to watch them perform this Saturday, I had to tell my friends coming to “ignore the name — they’re super good, I promise.” Nonetheless, with a name invoking images very much alien to the typical alt-rock aesthetic, I can’t blame them for being skeptical beforehand. After RKS’s vibrantly heartfelt performance that night, however, I’d be amazed if anyone left with a trace of skepticism.
The night’s opening act, Bon Tempo, wasted no time before emphatically diving into their repertoire of sing-along classics, spanning the decades from ’70s pop to contemporary alt-rock ballads. After a brief gap between sets, Caamp walked onto stage. The duo soon launched into a set of lively folk rock reminiscent of a stripped-down Mumford and Sons or the Lumineers. The audience was initially tepid, apparently both confused as to the identity of the band and possibly alarmed by the presence of a banjo at a rock concert. As the set drew to a close, however, Caamp reinvigorated the stage with a soulful performance of their most popular song, “Ohio,” which, according to their website, has over 400,000 streams on Spotify and charted to the number four spot on the U.S. Spotify Viral Chart. Though the performance certainly dragged at times, the band ultimately stepped off the stage to loud cheers and applause from the audience.
The crowd once again became restless during the set break. The clock nearly struck 11:30 p.m. before any sign of Rainbow Kitten Surprise appeared on stage; finally, lead singer Sam Melo stepped to the mic alone. Unlike the previous two performances, Rainbow Kitten Surprise began on a slower note. Sam addressed the audience in a spoken word monologue, building up as his bandmates ran onto stage and took their places for an intimate performance of “All That and More (Sailboat),” one of the band’s first songs. The band was immediately greeted with an outpouring of enthusiasm and the energy in the room only built as the band moved into upbeat tracks from their first album “Seven + Mary.”
Rainbow Kitten Surprise is an act playing music that does not conform with the expectations that arise due to their name — on their website, the band pays tribute to inspiration from Kings of Leon and Modest Mouse, both of which are certainly apparent in their music. However, the full extent of their sound is unlike anything else I can find. I could tell you to imagine rhythmic alternative-folk rock, equally catchy and poignant, with painfully-introspective lyrics, and you might come close to a general understanding of RKS’s style. There’s still no way to accurately describe Melo’s extremely distinctive vocals or the way the bassline has a way of always sending chills down one’s spine.
Throughout the performance, all the band members were lively and engaging. Melo, with no instrument to restrict his movement, was all over the stage. His dramatic expressions, body movements and audience interaction made for an electrifying stage presence. Several songs in, a group of students near the front held up a North Carolina flag, which Melo enthusiastically grabbed and held up to the audience.
RKS blazed through their set without losing momentum, hitting a majority of the songs they’ve released on their two albums to date, including their extremely popular “Devil Like Me” (which also charted on Spotify’s Viral 50 Chart) and two unreleased songs expected to be on their upcoming album. As the performance carried on, they shifted focus to their second album “RKS,” with its darker, more polished sound, with particularly stand-out performances of “Goodnight Chicago” and “Cocaine Jesus.”
Before playing “Mr. Redundant,” Melo encouraged the audience to put both hands in the air and jump during the refrain, a request the audience eagerly obliged. Throughout the show, bassist Charlie Holt also addressed the audience several times, urging the crowd to “dance more.”
By the time they played their last song and left the stage, the students weren’t ready for the show to be over, and a chorus of “one more song” spread through the audience, not stopping until the band abruptly ran back on stage, instruments in hand. Melo again rallied the crowd, as the dark, heavy bassline of “Run” looped in the background, and the ensuing performance left the crowd hoarse from cheering on a shirtless Melo rolling on the floor.
After the performance, both RKS and Caamp stuck around to talk to some of the students and sign merchandise. Holt told a circle of students huddled around him the story of RKS’ enigmatic name (apparently one of the band member’s closest friends and earliest supporters was in the ICU for a critical case of meningitis and, on painkillers, suggested the name before the band played their first gig). The members of Caamp, too, were eager to meet with students and talk about music. Overall, the performance was an exhilarating — intimate yet polished. Keep your ears tuned for news of RKS: with their U.S. tour just getting underway and a new album on the horizon, this band is going places.