Concert review: Rainbow Kitten Surprise’s sonic, visual variety engages audience in long set
Rainbow Kitten Surprise members play their respective instruments spread across a teal and indigo-lit stage. On Tuesday, the group brought elaborate visuals and alt-rock instrumentals to the House of Blues Anaheim. (Vivian Xu/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Rainbow Kitten Surprise
House of Blues Anaheim
May 25, 2022 11:42 p.m.
With colors galore, Rainbow Kitten Surprise delivered a visual and vocal feast.
The alternative indie rock group emerged onstage at the House of Blues Anaheim on Tuesday night with rainbow lights glowing above and below. Despite not having a recent album to peg the tour to – its last studio album, “How To: Friend, Love, Freefall,” was released in 2018 – RKS kicked off its trip across the country in April. With electrifying use of instrumentals and lighting, the five-piece band carried the crowd through seas of emotions, albeit with minimal crowd interaction to break up the constant shuffle of songs.
Bubbly techno beats set the soundtrack for the band to walk onstage before opening with “All That and More (Sailboat).” The more stripped-down tune took a bluesy edge with its double acoustic guitars and banjo, making clear RKS’ refreshing commitment to balancing its discography by not relegating the most popular songs to the end.
[Related: Stagecoach 2022]
After dipping between hits and smaller-scale tracks, “Hide” let lead singer Ela Melo shine. Donning a yellow and black floral frock, Melo often punctuated lyrics with poses as she lifted her arms above her head or fervently jumped to the beat – expertly navigating listeners through quick lyrical delivery and ever-changing visual effects.
But with the microphone stand nestled further back in center stage, the energy stagnated when Melo stepped away from the front to play the keys or guitar despite her consistently rich vocal delivery. Well-executed attempts to address the lulls included instructions for the audience to clap, which was framed via spotlight as a theatrical yet personal request from drummer Jess Haney.
The emphasis on visual variety helped satisfy viewers’ appetites for a way to keep energy high across the dizzying drill of song after song. Moving in every which way and displaying every color imaginable, the lighting earned its place as the rightful sixth member of the band, earning the lighting technicians a shoutout from Melo. Whether they were trembling white strobes, pulsing teals or swirling beams of multicolored light, the visual effects successfully carried their own weight, each attuned to the beat to set the musical ambiance.
The lighting also engaged the audience in more subtle ways. In “Goodnight Chicago,” heavy blue lights accented lyrics “Don’t shut down on me now, don’t shut down on me / Don’t wait until I drown to make it right” and cut to black on cue with the track’s final word “goodnight.” Streams of color also periodically shone into the crowd or swept across the stage to the floor, blurring the boundary between the performers and viewers in the painfully missed lieu of banter or call-and-response games.
Considering how RKS rarely conversed with the crowd, the group’s efforts instead went into sonic fine-tuning. From larger genre shifts, such as alternative rock to North Carolina-rooted twang or emotional trajectories stretching the personal and frenetic, the concert moved cleanly across varying landscapes in songs such as “Mr. Redundant” and “When It Lands.”
On a micro level as well, RKS knew how to bring a crowd’s energy levels up and back down with only a few missed steps. “Lady Lie” was one of the first tracks to work the audience up with the guitar and drums’ furious frenzy of emotion before calming them down with a duet’s angelic harmonies and sensual dance moves.
Additionally, with the potential to reach a climax blatantly clear in the name, the live rendition of “Fever Pitch” was slightly miscalibrated, climbing higher with staggered vocal delivery and teasing strobes without crescendoing down into a satisfying beat drop or rock ‘n’ roll breakdown. It took the group until its April single, “Work Out,” to deliver without devolving into a full-on rave, with layered instrumentals building up to an ocean of white and orange light and body-vibrating bass.
After an hour and a half of flipping through songs from its three studio albums, RKS began to close down the night by pumping up the energy with hits “First Class” and “Cocaine Jesus.” Both songs employed almost exclusively white light before lesser known track, “That’s My Shit,” from debut album “Seven + Mary” redeemed itself by bringing back color as the first song to directly use rainbows. The finale was an odd pick but kept spirits high until the five-song-long encore dragged the event beyond its breaking point with songs including “Possum Queen” and “Run.”
Despite its long runtime, Rainbow Kitten Surprise still swept audiences away to the other side of the rainbow.