Rainbow Kitten Surprise at Union Transfer

The majority of the audience was made up of people in the age range of about 15 to 27. Just as Rainbow Kitten Surprise (RKS) is a mix of different genres, the crowd was a combination of edgier looks like ripped denim and glittery eye makeup with delicate spring tank tops or cardigans. The main room of the venue already overflowed with people only 15 minutes after the doors opened for the sold-out show.

The night started off with CAAMP, a three-person group from Columbus, Ohio, that played a strings-dominated set with a banjo, bass, and guitar. Despite the occasional inclusion of drums in the instrumentation, CAAMP delivered a combination of country-folk and bluegrass, with a romanticism in their more modern lyrics. The falsetto of lead singer, Taylor Meier, channeled artists like Vance Joy or Bon Iver, who have clearly had an influence on CAAMP’s sound.

After a brief intermission, the lights went black before filling the entire room in a yellow glow for RKS’s new 23-second harmonizing song, “Pacific Love,” which is also the opener on the band’s new album, How To: Friend, Love, Freefall. Released on April 6, the album presents RKS with a new focus on the acoustic rhythms behind the prolific poetry of front man Sam Melo’s lyrics. Oftentimes, the emphasis is not on building the drums, strings, and keys into a coherence, but rather on isolating individual layers, even when that layer is silence.

Especially in songs like “Holy War,” of which a large part is almost exclusively vocals, the recorded version sounds too complex in its mixing to be accurately replicated in a live setting. But that’s where the backing vocals from bassist Charlie Holt and rhythm guitarist Darrick “Bozzy” Keller show their power. Holt, whose voice is lower than Melo’s, supported the sound with haunting echoes, while Keller added in harmonies that brought another dimension to the lead vocals.

It’s these vocals that make RKS distinctive with music that comes from a blend of influences like Mumford & Sons, Frank Ocean, and Imagine Dragons. The electric guitar solos gave elements of rock to the rap-like poetry that Melo sang. This unique combination works well for songs like “Hide,” whose lyrics discuss the struggles of coming out to people and communities that might not at first accept it. In their live performance of it, the rhythms beat loud and strong to the lines “I keep the car running / I keep my bags packed,” before cutting out to single-note plucks from the guitar with the words “He’s a better kisser than you’d think, Mom,” and again picking up speed with the instruments behind, “I hate you more than I miss you / That’s not true, I’d hate to miss you.”

Half of the appeal of RKS though, is their sincere and open expression in a live setting. Between the use of colorfully patterned lighting and improvised (yet still graceful) dancing, the performance brought a sense of comfort and community to the crowd. The band showed an effortless happiness and connection with each other onstage that promoted an unspoken one among the audience. The balanced rhythms and intimate lyrics complemented the feeling of the night: warm anticipation of a summer of friends, love, and freefall into every unindulged passion.

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