Live: Santigold’s retro party


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If you closed your eyes during the sold-out Santigold concert at Club Nokia on Friday night, it was easy to feel like you were at one of those Flashback to the ’80’s! concerts featuring the ska-reggae-derived sounds of Britain’s New Wave invasion.

It wasn’t just the thick party atmosphere, or the way the crowd roared in recognition at the start of nearly every song and then proceeded to sing along to most of them (even tracks off the singer-songwriter’s new album, ‘Master of My Make-Believe’). It was the music itself, a critically acclaimed amalgamation of sounds and styles that deeply echoes the music of the second British invasion.


Backed by two stony-faced female dancers and a three-piece band (bass, guitar and drums, though the bassist and guitarist also shared keyboard duties), Santigold kicked off the show with “Go,” the first track off the new disc, and quickly settled into a set that seamlessly fused material from ‘Master’ and her 2008 solo debut, Santogold.

Comfortable and confident onstage, she was also fairly anonymous, a curious void at the center of her own party. Her voice was in fine form, and she amiably joined in the remedial choreography of her dancers (who at one point lifted vintage Salt & Pepa moves) but she evinced little personality, and between-song banter was largely variations of the generic “You guys are awesome!”

Her band, on the other hand, was fantastic. Though the songs in the set list often had a tendency to run together in sound-alike grooves, it was energetically put across by the three guys clad in uniforms that looked like a cross between safari gear and Cub Scout get-ups. Especially powerful were the galloping drums that echoed throughout the club space and set heads to nodding and bodies to gyrating furiously.

But the band’s proficiency also underscored that while Santigold’s collaborations with hot-ticket producers like Switch and Diplo have earned them all cutting-edge and state-of-now status, the music they produce is largely a well-done retread of ska-inspired sounds born in underground UK clubs of the ‘80s. That outsider music, once futuristic and visionary, is now something of a paradox: coolly retro and still ahead of the curve.

The rainbow hipster crowd keyed into the show from the start, and their high-level energy lifted the night as they often dissolved into a murk of fist-pumping, booty-swiveling bodies. But they were also easily pleased, giving some of their most rapturous responses to the often awkwardly performed hip-hop and dance hall choreography.

The show ended on a spectacular note, as Santigold delivered chest-thumping versions of “Brooklyn,” her duet with Jay-Z, and “Big Mouth,” off the new album. It was a one-two musical punch that added a huge dollop of hip-hop swagger to the party mix, and the influx of attitude served up the personality that had largely been absent the rest of the night.


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-- Ernest Hardy