In March 2017, Rainbow Kitten Surprise played two sold-out shows at the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco, a quaint venue with a capacity of 400 people. Just over a year later, the band returned to the “Golden City” to sell out the 1,150-seat Fillmore.
This year alone, with the release of its latest album How to: Friend, Love, Freefall, the indie rock-ish band from the mountains of Boone, North Carolina sold out over 45 of its shows in its first US headlining tour and booked festivals ranging from Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza to this year’s Outside Lands.
It has been a slow rise to fame since the band’s inception in 2013, but this year has been transformative for each member. Onstage, they not only explore who they are — they discover how they contribute to the band as a whole.
The first half of the night was the rock side of Rainbow Kitten Surprise, greeted by the audience screaming and jumping to the beat. But the second half of the evening reminded audiences of the hybridity of the band, how far it has come and where it is going. Starting with the extremely emotional and heartfelt anthem “Hide” — about lead vocalist Sam Melo’s experience of coming out in the South — the audience was welcomed into each band member’s process of self-discovery.
Melo wore blue jeans and a white button-down, his long beard completing the folk singer aesthetic. Yet during the climax of “Hide,” he ripped off his shirt to reveal a black mesh crop top, swaying his hips side to side, telling the world: This is who I am.
While he is the lyrical and musical center of the band, Melo was not the only one who came out of his shell. Bassist Charlie Holt channeled a ‘70s rock goddess in dark eye shadow and a black lace shawl, his long hair thrashing as he took the lead with his turquoise bass. His high harmonies on “When It Lands” stole the show, head turned up as if he were singing to the gods.
The other three members held steady backup for most of the night — until the encore. Instead of performing crowd-pleasing songs, the encore became the beautiful conclusion to the night’s emotional arc.
Seated at his keyboard, Melo was the only band member onstage during “Polite Company,” a single spotlight shining upon him. Holt soon joined him in a beautiful duet, before the rest of the band members slowly made their way onstage. They circled Melo, facing each other for the final chords before turning out to face the audience — a moment demonstrating that they were playing for each other’s benefit just as much as the crowd’s.
The encore became a showcase of each individual member. “Recktify” highlighted the talent of drummer Jess Haney, with an incredible snare sequence and solo leaving the audience asking where he had been all night. Co-founding member and guitarist Darrick “Bozzy” Keller took the lead, breaking out of his shell by screaming and jumping center stage. After thanking each member of their crew by name and the rest of the band, Melo thanked the audience, and asked them to do him one last favor — “Turn the fuck up, please.”
For most of the show, guitarist Ethan Goodpaster stood off to the side, casually playing incredible guitar solos, reservedly looking to the ground. Yet he took center stage for the final number “Run,” rocking out to deafening applause as he performed the fingerpicking vicious solo in a backbend, Melo “death dropping” next to him.
It was an emotional night. Rainbow Kitten Surprise made it clear — it doesn’t take its rapid fame and expanding fan base lightly. It’s a family first and a band second. The band had no coordinating clothing theme, no coordinated dance sequences or even coherent musical genre — but it doesn’t need to; it’s just being itself.