SANTIGOLD at Kool Haus, Tuesday, May 15. Rating: NNNN
It's a welcoming surprise, and indicative of deeper resonance, when a fairly new record feels very familiar in concert.
Though I immediately connected with the cerebral bent and riddim-esque production on Santigold's latest, Master of My Make-Believe, I'd since moved on to other, newer records. But last night at the Kool Haus - Santi's first Toronto show since 2009 - the full power of those newer songs and lasting relevance of her older work provided insight into just how scrupulously good of a pop star she is.
Without warning, aside from the sudden appearance of a three-piece band dressed like soul surfers in printed tank tops and synthetic white flat-top caps, Santi rushed the stage and launched right into Go! It was a brawny, impressive, cherry bomb start to a set of 20+ polyrhythmic fight songs, plus three costume changes (a tropical floral pant-suit with blue punch shoulder flair, and holo trackies were the best) and the appearance of a two-person pony costume on stage.
Santi maintained a bewilderingly consistent energy level through old favourites like Lights Out and Say Aha, one-off hits like Major Lazer's Hold The Line, and new anthems Disparate Youth and This Isn't Our Parade. The band was tight; bass heavy, guitar skanky, drums riotous. What seemed at first a brisk, perfunctory set - six songs in 15 minutes! - was more an exercise in keeping up.
Dancing being unavoidable, much communal energy was expended, eventually resulting in a throng of kids rushing on stage for Creator, the show's highlight. Shout out to that Tyler, The Creator-inspired kid in a bright yellow Dutch Wax Print shirt and Supreme hat who knew every single rapid-fire word.
This review would be 5/5 if Santi's diploid, stoic-faced back-up dancers, who flanked her the entire night, didn't essentially steal the show. Carrying an assortment of props from snare drums to umbrellas they moved with the contained visceral joy of Pina Bausch's Tanztheater troupe, channeling the awkward 2D angles of Keith Haring art, wining dancehall-style on their hands, moving serpentine like vintage Bollywood choreography.
Whether throwing out a good-natured booty shake, grinning benevolently while shuffling around stage, or being dragged around theatrically by her girls, Santi is unafraid. She is not a flawless singer, a slick dancer, or particularly sexy on stage. But her show is conceptually thorough and un-self-conscious in its intention: to be a lot of fun. That kind of altruism is what makes Santigold probably the most relevant, necessary pop star out.