The dancing at a Santigold concert is not normal dancing. People wave their bodies like sheaves of wheat in the breeze and pulse their heads back and forth. It is not the bumping and grinding and twerking of hip hop nor is it the moshing and rollicking bodies of rock. Like most things connected to Santi White, it is somewhere in between.
Onstage, White has her two backup dancers with her: women that have toured alongside her so often that they are fixtures of the Santigold aesthetic itself. The stage they’re on looks like a half-hearted attempt at a retro beachside cabana with palm fronds and huge fluffy Dr. Seuss-style pompoms on poles stuck in the corners. Her dancers wear old fashioned cheerleading outfits and retro futuristic black and green neon visors that gleam preternaturally under the black light.
The crowd is ready to be won over by White. When the plodding bass of “Unstoppable” starts to play with its easy chorus, they readily sing along, already knowing the words. She is totally comfortable on stage, swaggering around in her outlandish costume, smiling at people. But she is also a bit lackluster. It feels as if she is strolling through the concert unconcerned, phoning it in. I am reminded at her show of the particular struggle of trying to hold a room’s attention continuously for two hours. She does it some but not all of the time. Yet, she is also endearing in the way she can laugh at the more middling aspects of her performance like when she forgets the words so obviously that she asks after the song is over, “You seen me f— up?”
Though many other things about this show do not stand out, White’s voice does. More clarion in person than in her studio recordings, her voice is high but not airy. Rather, it is slightly nasal, with some grit to it—abrasive but not in an unpleasant way. On “Starstruck” her voice pierces through the din and strikes an unexpected and poignant note when she sings, “I see you fade away” plaintively into the throbbing crowd. It is a sour note on top of the heavier, jagged instrumentals becoming a foil to the music.
About halfway through she pauses onstage and asks, “You guys feeling warmed up?” We respond enthusiastically and she invites everyone to come onstage for the next song. The crowd pauses for a moment in disbelief before people start to lift themselves over the barriers. By the end, there seem to be seventy or so people amassed onstage. She goes about hugging and high fiving people as she sings. There’s a woman at the front of the crowd eagerly singing along with every word of “Creator” and as White comes by she puts the microphone close to the woman who sings to her ecstatically and breathlessly. This moment is one of the most joyful and enlivened throughout her performance. Here, she is a beneficent and frenetic on stage—singing with people, yelling to the crowd to put their phones away and live in the moment, dancing, bending down to ask a small child her name.
The most remarkable part of an at times unremarkable show is that White remains unwaveringly and eccentrically herself. No matter that she dresses like a disco Goldilocks or forgets her own lyrics and is not afraid to say so. She is not trying to be anyone else. At her worst, White’s show is a fine if underwhelming retrospective of her ten years of work as a solo artist. But at her best, White walks around the stage in her gold cape like she owns it—and the microphone and the whole room with its strange dancing and freaky music. And next to her you can get up onstage and dance and rap her lyrics like crazy into the microphone and own who and what you are too.
Miranda Jetter writes about all manner of noise in Washington, DC. You can find her at @Mirandajetter on Twitter doing the Time Warp again.