By: Jim Welte
Santogold, Mates of State, Low Vs Diamond & Alice Smith
10.07.08 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA
The bass rumbled, the singer crooned, and the crowd went absolutely haywire. But, even though Santogold left a packed house at The Fillmore thrilled and wanting more, something seemed amiss. The set clocked in at barely 40-minutes, and with the singer joined only by a DJ, the killer guitar hooks, horn blasts and keyboards all over her acclaimed self-titled debut were awash in a sea of thundering bass.
|Santogold by Fabien Maisonneuve|
There's no shame in being backed by wax - MCs need little more than a DJ to move the crowd - and M.I.A., the Sri Lankan rapper to whom Santogold (real name Santi White) is most often compared, does the same. But Santogold's 2008 debut album served up much more than that musically, taking the scattershot, dancehall-inflected beats of M.I.A. in new directions, brewing up a sonic stew that also included splashes of new wave, indie rock and punk. To present it live as a pretty voice over a booming sound system felt lazy.
The most entertaining part of the set was a pair of backup dancers, wearing frilly blouses and shades and styled as a sort of fembot version of Public Enemy's S1Ws, blasting through frantic dance routines. At the end of the set, Santi invited about two dozen fans onstage to join them for "Creator," the spastic glitch bomb that ignited the crowd into a frenzy.
Almost every song was a party starter, from the dubby "Shove It" to the Cars-inspired "Lights Out," and chants were in abundance, most notably on new waver "Say Aha." Santi mixed in a cover of The Clash's "Guns of Brixton," and seemed genuinely thrilled, despite wondering aloud if this was her first time performing in San Francisco. (It was.)
Like many live shows, this one was all about expectations. If you just wanted to hear a very good record blasted loud as hell while getting lit with your friends, this did the trick. If you were wondering how an artist would expand a daring record in a live setting, you left disappointed.
The night was bolstered by a trio of strong opening acts. Husband-and-wife duo Mates of State have long since established themselves as purveyors of brainy, goodie gumdrop pop, and they didn't disappoint and clearly brought out their own diehards. On several tracks, a guitarist and cellist, who augmented tracks "Like U Crazy" and "Think Long" with orchestration, joined them. L.A.-by-way-of-Colorado quintet Low Vs Diamond specialized in ballads that built to crescendos, borrowing nicely from the likes of Snow Patrol, The Killers and Aqualung.
The night's most electrifying performance was its first, coming before half the crowd had arrived, and featuring just a singer and a guitar accompaniment. Alice Smith has been toiling under the radar for the past two years, showing off a gifted voice on a wide range of material, from soul and R&B to jazz and rock. The spare setup was designed to put an emphasis on her voice, and she did not disappoint. It was, quite frankly, an unbelievable performance, with Smith pushing each track to new heights. The set included new songs and those from her 2006 album, For Lovers, Dreamers & Me. The best was a new one called "So Bad," as impassioned a song of unrequited love as you will ever hear sung by a voice of gold. One can only hope her new record is this good.
Santogold tour dates available here.
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