Concert Review: Rainbow Kitten Surprise

Rainbow Kitten Surprise turned The Observatory North Park into a hotbed of indie music for one memorable night.

It was quite fitting that a concert by a band called Rainbow Kitten Surprise took place on a street boasting pride flags in storefronts and on a stage lit with a wide spectrum of colors. These bold features pointed to what would be in store for the large and lively crowd of 20-year-olds packed into a theater hall. With alcohol and anticipation buzzing through a cheering crowd, the show started right on time.

Folk trio Caamp kicked off the night with a banjo and a pair of guitars. The lead singer, Taylor Meier, donned a cowboy hat and, accompanied by acoustic instrumentals, sang bittersweet stories of the wild country and family. With his throaty voice aching over his words, one could imagine him in a movie as a lone cowboy singing in a dark and lonely saloon. As is common with opening acts, the band initially received a quiet reception from the unacquainted audience. However, the three musicians soon energized the room, that welcomed their catchy country style, folksy rhythms, and eventual introduction of drums. Alongside their powerful themes, some songs featured impressive guitar and banjo solos, when the band poured all its energy and focus into its swift strumming, feats that rewarded it with hoots and whistles from the crowd. Even with some false endings and premature clapping, Caamp proved to be a worthy opener for Rainbow Kitten Surprise, who it had been touring with throughout California. Its last song of the tour that night was dedicated to the headlining band, and it even featured one of the RKS members.

Twenty minutes later, the dark stage burst into bright golden lights, and the inside voices of the audience erupted into loud cheering. In walked the five men who made up the beloved band with instruments, casual shirts, and jeans, and without any introduction, they immediately struck the crowd with “Mission to Mars” and “Fever Pitch,” two brooding, toe-tapping songs from their new album “How to: Friend, Love, Freefall.”

The band members, it seemed, instantly settled into a restless rhythm that would last the rest of the night. They banged their heads to the thudding drum beats, pressed their hands and mouths against their mics, and spun and danced across the stage. The crowd was just as energetic and immersed in the heat of the moment: People kissed, raised drinks and phones, and sang — even chanted — in unison to lyrics they knew by heart. The mutual admiration between the band and the audience was palpable. It was like a conversation between the two; after every few songs, the band would profusely thank San Diego, and the crowd would roar back with its own thanks to the band.

Beard sparkling with glitter, the lead singer, Sam Melo, demonstrated his abilities as a natural performer. He changed shirts, jumped and frolicked to the music’s upbeat melodies, bounced between the mic and keyboards, acted playful with his bandmates, and gestured with his hands to the audience during songs as if he was serenading each and every person in the room. He performed alongside the lyrics, bending down to pray during the ominous and richly thematic “Holy War,” which was one of the many visually expressive performances of the night. It bathed the band in dark red light, and the audience swayed and sang to the gothic imagery of a modern-day crusade. The concert was more evocative of a warm and sultry North Carolina night under the stars than a theater in the middle of a Southern California city. Moments during the concert like this were made even more impactful knowing that Melo recently came out as gay, adding another layer of depth and meaning to the band’s emotional songs that dealt with love and spirituality.

Unfortunately, Rainbow Kitten Surprise did not play some fan favorites, such as “Goodnight Chicago” and “Counting Cards.” However, the band still performed popular songs like “Devil Like Me,” “Lady Lie,” and “Cocaine Jesus,” and it is with pleasure to report that such songs were even better live. The stage had a skillful and colorful light show, which, though not too expensive or fancy, did its job of illuminating the band, making photography easy, and not blinding the audience. The smoke onstage elevated the effects of the lights, and furthermore, the sound and volume of the band were just right, capturing the natural quality of voices and instruments without becoming overbearing.

Light and sound effects aside, most of the success of the show can be attributed to Rainbow Kitten Surprise and even Caamp themselves. Even if the venue and technical aspects had not provided their stellar viewing experience, the band’s music and personality would have ultimately made for a show that was as unexpectedly vibrant, fun, and unforgettable as its name.

Grade: A-
Date: May 12, 2018
Location: The Observatory North Park

Image Courtesy of Clash Magazine

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