A sold-out audience filled every corner of the Maintenance Shop this past Friday, Feb. 3.
The line stretched down towards the Great Hall as it emerged from the depths of the Memorial Union. Everyone was waiting to see Rainbow Kitten Surprise (RKS), a band that had struck a chord with people before making their long-awaited arrival this far west to Ames.
In nothing short of a stellar performance, Rainbow Kitten Surprise sang and danced long into the night and fueled the crowd with great interaction.
The opener of the concert, Caamp, is an up and coming indie folk duo based out of Columbus, Ohio. With only two musicians, they kicked of the show with a very open and intimate feel. With no drums or proper bass guitar, I was skeptical at first of how they would create a diverse set list, but was amazed at what the two men could do with what they brought on stage.
Their foot-stomping, soulful songs struck a chord with the crowd. They had laid their guitar cases out on the stage and beer bottles lined the two musician’s feet. This created a homely feel, as if everything they had performed was improvised.
“It’s our first big tour, I’m still amazed that Rainbow Kitten Surprise picked us over other possible touring bands,” said Evan Westfall, banjo player for Caamp. “Our managers knew each other, and we had clicked upon our first meeting.”
It was a refreshing experience to have Caamp perform first, because they were more relaxed and refined than RKS. They didn’t push the audience too hard and they certainly didn’t outplay the main act.
With the crowd warmed up, RKS took the stage. There was an immediate roar of the crowd at first sight of Sam Melo, the front man. He took to the stage alone at first, guitar in hand, sharing a story about "Sailboat," one of the first songs he wrote.
He rambled on for a bit, strummed a chord and laughingly said, “I don’t know what I’m saying, but I have a guitar so you guys are looking at me”. In a few moments, the rest of the band came onto the stage from the crowd, and they busted into “Sailboat” with great force.
From the first lyric to the last, there were fans in the crowd singing along, only somewhat shocking, as RKS seemed to have amassed a cut following before even stepping foot across the Mississippi.
The band was electric, putting all my pre-show worries away. On their record the band was not as alive, as they didn’t utilize the talents of Ethan Goodpaster (lead guitarist) or Jess Haney (drummer) to the extent that they did live.
“Keeping riffs simpler has a more universal appeal to people," Goodpaster said, talking about the extent of his involvement on the albums in contrast with live performances. "I have been playing since I was little, learning from B.B. King and Eddie Van Halen, but it is only in live shows is when I show people what I can really do.”
This was kind of discomforting to me, because what felt like show-stopping moments in songs live, simply weren’t present on the records.
They knew all the trademarks that make a good show. Sam Melo danced more than any fan to songs he wrote with majesty. Charlie Holt, the long-haired bass player, slid around the stage and shuffled to pockets of fans with great interaction. Darrick “Bozzy” Keller, a big bear of a man, bogeyed and did a great job supplying backing vocals and rhythm guitar.
I couldn’t help but just take in the band at times. They all sang along with the audience, they all smiled, they laughed with each other on stage and joked frequently with one another. They were five best friends just jamming out. This was so pleasing to me; So many bands are stuck up these days -- they come off as if they are above the audience, on some unreachable pinnacle -- but not Rainbow Kitten Surprise.
The set list was filled to the brim with crowd favorites and emotional storytelling such as “Goodnight Chicago,” “Devil Like Me” and “Cocaine Jesus”. They also worked in some new songs that were well received, these being “Free Falling" and the groovy tune “When It Lands.”
In an interview shortly after the show, Sam Melo opened about his lyrics and the interworking’s of the band.
“Much of the inspiration of our music stems from sad s---t”, Melo said. “I regurgitate life experiences.”
I asked him about his ties to the devil, as the theme appears in many of the bands jams.
“I grew up in the Dominican Republic and the devil was an obsession to the culture there, people were genuinely afraid of the devil," Melo said. "I wanted to find out when I came to America exactly what it was for this culture, what it means and evokes for different people. It is always good imagery.”
I then questioned the name of the band, and Melo laughed telling the story I’m sure he has told many times.
“We have talked about changing it many times but never got around to it,” Melo said. “When it was just me and Bozzy back in college we didn’t have a name yet. We visited our friend, Noah, who was hospitalized with meningitis, a 35% survival rate. We told him he could name the band and Rainbow Kitten Surprise were the words that he jokingly said. And it just stuck.”
RKS did a great job ireeling in more fans and impressing its current ones on Friday. There really aren't many artists that can match the energy and sound of the group. It may have been a tough decision for the band to decide to quit college and their old jobs to pursue music, but I think all five members would agree, it was the right decision.