by Liz Miller
Santigold | Nee June 13, 2012 The Pageant
Santi White cuts a boring figure on stage. Or at least she did last night during her set at the Pageant (6161 Delmar Boulevard). Sluggish and overly rehearsed, she was so much less interesting than the fascinating spectacle that surrounded her on stage. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. During a performance that was more show than concert, her badass back-up dancers hypnotized the audience with their twin expressionless faces (a la the ladies from Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" video) in sharp contrast to violent tribal motion and floor gymnastics, gyrating and gettin' it so fiercely it forgave Santigold's forced, lackluster stage presence.
The evening began with local act Nee opening the show, a last minute line-up switch when rapper and fellow Brooklyn dweller Theophilus London dropped off the bill late last week. Nee front woman Kristen Dennis' sunny demeanor warmed the crowd for the forthcoming dance party, and the band's shiny, noisy pop played well.
Santigold, her three-piece band and those enthralling back-up dancers, took to the stage at 9:25 p.m. all clad in obligatory nonsense costumes combining DayGlo shades of neon with fringe and retro floral prints. Trading props all night long, the back-up dancers started as grungy, glow-in-the-dark cheerleaders, thrusting sparkly gold pom poms to a perfectly choreographed routine as Santigold sprung into "Go!" the first track on her recent release - and her first in four years - Master of My Make-Believe. Seconds into the song I turned to a friend..."Is she lip synching or is this just a really heavy backing track?" Throughout the set's ensuing 70 minutes we were never really sure. There was definitely a backing track to aid her vocals, and I'm pretty certain she was truly singing for most, if not all, of the show.
Honestly I don't really care either way. Had she been dancing strenuously it wouldn't have been worth noting at all, but perhaps it was more distracting as she stood idle for much of the set, occasionally walking to stage left or right to engage the crowd or halfheartedly join her dancers for a quick shimmy, shake or booty thrust here, there. Santigold has addressed lip-synching - her own and other artists' - before, and I'm satisfied with her explanation that sometimes it exists to enhance art, not replace it or fake it. The trouble with applying that to her performances is when she herself offers little else work with. But then, the clubbin' crowd at the Pageant hardly cared.
"Go!" was followed by two fan favorites from White's 2008 self-titled first release, "L.E.S. Artistes" and "Lights Out" -- arguably her best known songs and certainly what elevated the audience's energy from dancy enthusiasm to kinetic insanity. The show clearly didn't hit capacity - tickets were still on sale up until Nee performed and the balcony was closed off - but the pit was teeming with a young crowd. If a bit over-rehearsed, the set was tight and well-executed with three tidy wardrobe changes -- the back-up dancers had the edge on awesome outfits, too - and bizarre displays like White donning a gold streamer cape and two people dressed in a white horse/pony costume joining her cadre on stage before "Disparate Youth." I can only imagine how trippy that was for those in the audience already riding the white horse.
There were several clear highlights during the show, most notably during "Creator" and "Shove It" from her self-titled album. As "The Keepers" came to a close, White invited what felt like half the audience to join her on stage for "Creator" and that felt like the way the entire show should have been; Santigold dancing and singing on stage with her fans, who threw themselves into the song with spark and passion that White clearly fed off of. As the track ended so did the on-stage dance party, with Pageant security corralling the rave back into the pit from whence it came.
The other bright moment for me was White's take on the Jay-Z track she's featured on -- "Brooklyn Go Hard" -- which samples an arrangement of "Shove It" that bled into that shit-kicking anthem filled with so much ambition and struggle. Lyrics like, "I pay for what's called eccentricity/and my will to evolve/I hear them all say that I got heart/but not everything that it takes," still ring true of White's complex talents that might lack polish but never purity.
The evening ended with two tracks from Master of My Make Believe: "Fame" and "Big Mouth," both single-worthy tracks that blend the myriad influences that define White's work, and as an encore she offered "You'll Find a Way" and "B.O.O.T.A.Y.," the latter a song she was featured on by Benny Blanco and Spank Rock. If possible, the audience burst into more motion during the encore than the last half of the set, with trance movement and gesticulating bodies - and drinks - flailing, lost in a moment of partying hard.
Personal Bias: I'm a fan of the new album Master of My Make-Believe in the same way I was of her first, self-titled release, which is to say I don't think it's much of a progression or forward thrust, but it doesn't have to be. It's just good.
Overheard: Just after the show ended, "That was amazing! That was exactly what I needed. I'M ON MUSHROOMS!"
Setlist: Go! L.E.S Artistes Lights Out Say Aha God From the Machine Get It Up Disparate Youh Anne The Keepers Creator Freak Like Me Starstruck Shove It This Isn't Our Parade Pirate in the Water Fame Big Mouth
Encore: You'll Find a Way B.O.O.T.A.Y.