Rainbow Kitten Surprise–a band name you don’t easily forget. Inspired by a close friend’s morphine-ridden ramblings from a hospital bed, RKS was christened. A whimsical, genre-bending crew, these five folks have cultivated quite a following. Drug-induced name and long, scraggly ‘cocaine Jesus’ beard aside, if you have yet to experience this band live you are missing something in your life.
I am 2 for 3. I have had the electrifying, bizarro experience of seeing RKS perform two out of the three times they have made it to the Twin Cities. Their debut was at the 7th Street Entry, followed by the main stage at First Ave, and just recently Palace Theatre. Every show sold out. I couldn’t help but wonder how this weird band from North Carolina is selling out shows all over the Midwest?
It’s all about the live experience, my friends. I’m talking jump kicks rivaling a Chuck Norris’ round-house, an electro-folk sound that can climb Paul Simon heights, and phantom-like harmonies that can transport you into melancholy yet psychedelic Neverlands.
Three studio albums in–How to: Friend, Love, Freefall is their latest–they showed off a lot of their new material, but also covered a lot of material off their self-titled RKS and sophomore Seven + Mary. They certainly pushed that St. Paul sound ordinance, but no one seemed to mind. The opening track was a slow-burn, but once Sam Melo danced his way to stage, the front of the crowd came alive at “It’s Called: Freefall.” Twirls, drops, rapid-fire harmonies ensued.
“Called to the Devil and the Devil said quit/ Can’t be bothered better handle your shit/ Keep about your wits man, keep about your wits/ Know yourself and who you came in with/ Can I sit down I’ve been hustling all day/ I can’t even count how many souls I’ve made/ Off the same deal you on/ Remember: The Devil ain’t a friend to no one”
Next was a fitting follow-up was a track off their debut 2013 album called “Shameful Company.” Pain-stricken lyrics matched a minimalist electronic-bass backdrop comparable to the XX’s “VCR” that blended well with live drums. The focal point was Melo’s vocals and heart-wrenching scream, “If I don’t suit you, then what do you want from me?”
Soon after, “Hide” propelled the crowd into a frenzy. Following the bridge two minutes into the track, Bozzy’s disjointed, twangy guitar unleashed an eruption of breakneck raps from Melo and an abounding chorus of voices. Every band member weighed in on vocals, but the crowd nearly drowned them out. I cradled my camera from a splash zone of spilled beer. Fans went ballistic–I spotted a few tutus in the wake of jumps and twirls.
“Hide,” off their latest album, has come to be recognized as a joyful LGBTQ+ anthem. Melo even came out publicly on Instagram shortly after the music video was released. In an interview with The Red and Black he summarizes his experience of coming out to his bandmates as rather anti-climatic: “You’re a dance major who wears a pea coat, dress shoes and smokes Djarum Blacks. We know, it’s cool.” Nonetheless, the video beautifully illustrates multiple narratives of individuals reconciling who they are and what they love, with the people they love.
Melo’s vocals are hard to describe. They vary from a keening falsetto to a sure-fire rapping style that explodes with nervous energy, leaving you shaking. The most endearing moment of the night was when Keller and Melo made the switch to acoustic and Ethan Goodpaster pulled out the banjo for “All That and More (Sailboat).” Arriving halfway through the set, the collective sways, claps, and audible “awe’s” made for a light, feel-good track that lifted the crowd.
“Cocaine Jesus” and “Devil Like Me” were obvious fan favorites, but RKS unexpectedly played a new song shortly after, “No Vacancy.” They played this unreleased track for their hometown crew in Carrboro, NC on their first tour in summer of 2016 and at the Pleasantville Music Festival that same year, but it seems that it’s been unearthed and added to the setlist this time around. The song’s inclusion was an unexpected surprise that spurred head turns and murmurs in the crowd. Tinged with melancholy and born from a lonely place, “No Vacancy” brought the high energy to a muted, peaceful plane.
Before the encore, “Goodnight Chicago” swung the energy back to soaring heights. This speaks to their transient, fluid style–always changing, anything goes. Whether it be a folk song moving towards a blend of rock and electronic, or a groovy, brand of ska-rock or reggae, RKS’s sound is constantly evolving.
The encore included a shirtless Sam Melo, more jump kicks, and high-energy bangers “Fever Pitch” and “Rectify” back-to-back. After introducing everyone in the band, Melo screamed “Do you mind? I said do you mind?”
The crowd responded in unison, “No! Noooo!”
He stepped back a moment to tug on his scraggly beard in quandary, “Oh really? Well, if you really don’t mind, turn the fuck up, please!”
Jumping up on Haney’s drum kick, balancing on the kick drum, Melo launched the four into the last song of the night and arguably their heaviest rock song to date, “Run.” While Melo and “Bozzy” went ballistic, Ethan Goodpaster dropped to the edge of the stage shredding his guitar to ribbons.
“Dollar bills/money, money, money/ got em hungry for the kill/ got em hungry for the kill/ All the kids come running for the money/ got em runnin’ by the hundreds/ by the millions, by the mil/ Keep your head low/ keep your head low/ unless you’re headed over my way, for them/ Dollar bills/ money, money, money got em runnin’/ got em runnin’, better run, boy, run”
Rainbow Kitten Surprise has a way of breaking down and reinventing what one might call “rock and roll,” and a stage presence that keeps you guessing. I’m excited to see what they create next.