Santigold. Ogden Theatre. 03.24.16
In real life, Santi White is a 39-year-old mother who lives in a Brooklyn townhome with her snowboarder/musician husband and 2-year-old son. She prefers comfort to fashion, but loves shopping the latest styles for her toddler. To the rest of the world, she is Santigold – a star of the underground who is oblivious to the lines that separate dub, reggae, hip-hop, and pop. As Santigold, White is willing to forego comfort in pursuit of maximum appeal. Rocking a bright yellow mini dress, and backed by her SG1 dancers, the artist sold herself to the capacity crowd at the Ogden Theatre last night. While various consumer products were advertised on the big screen behind her, and the words WE BUY GOLD were emblazoned on the front of her dress, the message came through loud and clear. There was no room for misinterpretation. The cover of her latest album, 99¢, depicts Santigold as nothing more than a product, shrink-wrapped with other crap from the bargain bin at your local Walmart. The We Buy Gold Tour, which kicked off in Houston a few nights ago, expands on that theme of over-consumption and the (lack of) value placed on music in today’s culture of subscription-based streaming. The recurring 99¢ imagery is surely in reference to the price of a single song on iTunes, but as Vince Staples was happy to point out while performing in the Spotify House at SXSW last week, a song is literally worth a fraction of a cent these days.
When the value of a song becomes less than zero, how can a recording artist survive? The answer is touring. The good news is, Santigold is very good at touring. She always puts a lot of effort into the production of her shows and last night was no exception. Gone were the giant furs, theatrics, and two-person horse costumes, but in their place were subtle things that were just as effective. After quite a long wait, the lights went down around 10:30pm, only to come up on Moni-Jo and Des de la. They were kicking back on beanbag loungers, munching Cheetos and drinking Gatorade, with a mixture of entitlement and detached boredom, while the mistress of ceremonies opened things up with “You’ll Find A Way”. “Go ahead, you know you want it,” Santigold sang, while her dancers tried to figure out if the music was worth getting up for. It wasn’t until “L.E.S. Artistes”, her first charted single, when SG1 decided it was worth their time. The music might have moved them, but their self-obsession continued through choreography involving dancing with selfie sticks, thus mirroring the many concert goers who spend their time taking photos of themselves.
After a couple choice selections from the new album, Santigold brought things back to 2008 with “Lights Out” (arguably the best track from her debut album). “Say Aha” and “Unstoppable” followed, making for a dream first-half setlist for any old school fans in the house. “Freak Like Me” served as the first of a few tracks from the underrated Master of My Make-Believe and then we were treated to another healthy helping of new material. Her banter between songs revolved around what a hassle it was to get to Denver because of the blizzard and how happy she was that they able to make it. “I love looking out at you all!” There was a small lull in the set around that time which probably could have been saved with more creative light work. Santigold’s music can hold its own, but when the goal is to get the audience to dance at a place like the Ogden, lighting can make all the difference. It also didn’t help that there were various sound issues throughout the set. Luckily things did pick back up again after she took a quick break to change into a homemade raincoat lined with magazine clippings. “Disparate Youth” was the banger it was supposed to be, which led to another run from the Santogold days, including an audience-assisted “Creator”. Bringing fans on stage to dance was a regular thing at Santigold shows in the past, so it was nice to see that hadn’t changed.
Another quick wardrobe break gave the SG1 girls a chance to show off their twerking skills before Santigold came back out wearing a shirt with her own image on it. With the braids made of yarn bouncing around her screen printed face, she led us through a stomp-along rendition of “GO!”, which brought the energy level back to what I experienced at Fun Fun Fun Fest in 2012. That energy lasted through the end of the show. “Who Be Lovin’ Me” could have been a mess without the ILOVEMAKONNEN assist, but she pulled it off. That song proves she really can rap when she wants to. Brooklyn was properly represented when things went ‘hard’ during “Shove It” and then the percussion-heavy “Big Mouth” sent vibrations through the venue. That percussion also made me realize that the band had been in the background the entire night. Nothing wrong with that though, just an observation. The guitarist was much more front-and-center and active when I saw them in Austin. I didn’t have time to dwell on the band placement for long though, because “Can’t Get Enough of Myself” was up next. It is her big hit right now, so it was fitting that she held it until the end. It drove the crowd wild and ironically, it was the one song everybody put their phones down for. You really couldn’t have asked for a better finale.
Santigold is just a character played by a woman named Santi White, but like it or not, that character is a representation of the culture we are all a part of. “Can’t Get Enough of Myself” is perfect in so many ways. It’s a catchy as hell pop song. It’s fun to dance to. And it stays stuck in your head hours after you hear it. You were probably still singing the chorus as you posted photos from the concert on Facebook. And although the monetary value of the song might be as worthless as the Snapchat story you created about the show, there is so much emotional value in seeing it performed live. We can download, stream, and share songs all day long, but YouTube, Vimeo, and Periscope will never be replacements for the live music experience. Becoming a full-fledged pop star with mansions and private jets and fancy cars is something that is becoming more and more rare, but talented artists like Santi White can augment the money lost to services like Spotify by taking her Santigold show on the road. Touring is how Santi White will be able to pay her mortgage on that Brooklyn townhome. It’s how she will keep her son in the latest fashions. People will still pay good money to see performers put on a show. People will have also buy t-shirts if you have a selection of designs and sizes for sale (hint hint). The Santigold I witnessed last night was a little more mellow than the one I saw a few years ago. She was lighter on her feet and seemed to be having more fun. She seemed younger and the show less choreographed as well. It was only the third night of the tour, so there were still some kinks to work out, and it wasn’t quite as exciting as seeing her on the big stage in Austin, but it was still a fun show. One I would pay to see again.
A camouflage-clad Leikeli47 opened the night with mixed results. The majority of the crowd seemed to be feeling her style, but I (and the entire group I was with) just couldn’t get into her set. Sound issues could be to blame, but the voice coming from under her ski mask was grating at best and unbearable at worst. Her DJ was completely off as well. His vocal contributions were confusing and completely misplaced. A third guy came up at one point and I still don’t know what he was supposed to be doing. I’ve listened to a few of her tracks today and I hear potential, but that potential wasn’t on display last night.
You’ll Find a Way
Big Boss Big Time Business
Freak Like Me
Who Be Lovin Me
All I Got
Who I Thought You Were
Can’t Get Enough of Myself