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Written byAlex Short & Kerryn Hopkinson

“Called to the Devil and the Devil said Hey! Why you been calling so late?”

The moments before Rainbow Kitten Surprise came on were filled with palpable electricity and buzzing excitement that ran through the crowd.

The opening act, Desmond and The Tutus, had already left to cheers any headlining artist would be lucky to hear, playing favourites like Pretoria Girls, Teenagers, Ladybug and an impressive cover of Kid Cudi’s Day ‘n Night. It would’ve been a memorable evening had it ended there, but an incredibly complex light show illuminating an otherwise dark mountain is greeted with roaring applause and joyous shouts. It’s the welcoming of an incredible night that’s going to follow.

Rainbow Kitten Surprise, an American indie-rock band, surprised everyone by taking a far detour from their European Tour to make a surprisingly unadvertised stop in South Africa before going back to performing in Germany next week. The crowd seems like a surprise to them, and after a tentative albeit well-performed first song, Lead Singer Ela Melo simply remarks “we were told you would be quiet” before jumping into the next performance. Without so much as a band introduction, the entire show became about the music. A roaring crowd sang the whole way through, and it was just about the audience’s connection to the music. Shameful Company was a particular performance where all that seems to matter is the emotion, and a desperate crowd joins Ela in an almost single voice to sing “was I born alone”, with the entire crowd connecting to its meaning.

Ela Melo simply remarks “we were told you would be quiet” before jumping into the next performance.

Kirstenbosch Gardens seemed to transcend simply being a beautiful venue and radiated in its ability to provide an intimate atmosphere. All that you could  focus on was the band, the pulsing lights matching the drum beat and coloured spotlights matching the mood of each song was the only lighting provided to the crowd except for a nearly full moon rising to the right of the stage. The band seemed only to care about the music, releasing stellar after stellar performance with both favourites like Hide, Goodnight Chicago, First Class, Devil Like Me and Our Song paired with some tracks of the band’s earlier album that only a few in the crowd know – but everyone treats with equal significance.

Where some artists are said to perform their music as well as their studio recordings, RKS exceed them, feeding off the crowd and an outpouring of connection to their music. The band could make the crowd both cry and feel alive with a simple thing. Between songs, they mutter sweet everythings like “Don’t be afraid of who you are” and “You are exactly where you are supposed to be”. Simple words, yes, but words that capture how RKS makes the crowd feel and what so many people who related to their lyrics needed to hear. It’s a collaboration of crowd and artist in an experience in creating emotional expression unlikely to be forgotten by anyone in the crowd. 

The band finally introduced themselves just before their last performance of the night, the first real-time they talk to the audience, before ending the concert on a high. But the audience isn’t satisfied yet. Cheers and restarted cries of ‘we want more’ got increasingly louder and more desperate and echoed across the dark mountain. After a nervously long waiting period, the band came back on stage and started perhaps their best performance of the concert. Beginning with When It Lands and then following with a performance of a soulful, intimate unreleased track, the crowd was reinvigorated for the final song of the night and the one most people have been waiting for. It’s Called Freefall ended the night with the loudest reception – the entire crowd knew every word and was fervent with energy. It was a bold choice to end the night with a favourite in an encore, but it’s a choice that was appreciated.

In a venue that couldn’t have created a better atmosphere, a crowd that was so set up to build a connection between artist and sound and that artist never missing in their performance, producing a seamless, transcendent exhibition of art, Rainbow Kitten Surprise is not a concert we’re likely to ever forget and we can only hope another surprise stop in their tour will come soon.

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