Last Night: Santigold at House Of Blues

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Santigold, Charli XCX House of Blues June 7, 2012

Watching Santigold onstage, you'd have almost no idea that the 35-year-old former punk singer had a hand in developing the careers of some of the biggest pop starlets in the last decade. That is until you break down that her costume changes, the way she works the audience, and those crazy dance routines all come from a place of pure showmanship, a staple of the music industry.

Throw those elements into a pot along with a little punk, rocksteady, African jazz, tribal music and New Wave (Santigold says Devo is her No. 1 favorite band) and you've got one of the most endearingly eclectic musicians to ever take the stage at House of Blues.

Santigold reportedly dislikes comparisons to M.I.A., but for the uninitiated, it works. Both evolved from an early hip-hop/pop sound to make music with much more of an ethnic influence. But Thursday night I couldn't help thinking of another excellent show at HOB, when Peaches played in 2009. I left Thursday's show, much like the Peaches gig, feeling shored up and artistically motivated by a woman singing about how it's okay to be different, to sacrifice things for art, and to not give a fuck about what anyone else thinks of you.

Case in point: Playing what is probably her biggest hit, "L.E.S. Artistes," second in her set list. Depending on how you look at it, that's either a big FU to the way concerts "should" be run (save the hits for the middle), or it displays the pop sensibility of giving her audience exactly what they want, right away.

And here's another example of her pop sensibility. I was so hoping the dancers from many of her videos would be on tour with her. (They have their own Twitter account at @SG1dancers.) They were, and with Santi White, the trio took such command of the stage I almost forgot there was a three-piece band behind them playing. Turns out both dancers are from Houston.

The dancers provided two musical interludes for Santigold's costume changes. After the first, her bandmates came out in a two-person horse costume for "Hold The Line." She followed that up with "Disparate Youth," (off her new album, Master of My Make-Believe) probably one of the prettiest songs I've heard live in a long while.

Later, for "Creator," she brought a whole mess of fans on stage to get low with her. Songs in between, like "Anne", were downright dancehall in their rhythm and intensity.

She sang some older hits for her third act -- "Brooklyn We Go Hard" -- and our companion made a Missing Persons connection, which seemed to fit in the moment (except for less overt sexuality). She finished the show with a short encore of nerdcore that culminated in her dancers doing the Hammertime.

In short, it was weird, but accessible; goofy but sincere. Downright golden.

A word on Santi's opener, Charli XCX. When she came out on stage my first thought was that she was going to be some chav-vy Britpop princess. I was totally wrong.

Despite her awkward dancing and constant tugging at her too-short shirt, ("What a ho-bag," she quipped to the crowd) Charli and band (a real drummer and a guy on a laptop) sounded something like Bjork singing Roxy Music. Totally awesome.

I spoke to her outside the show, in between hords of new fans asking for photos. The 19-year-old was in Houston for the first time, but will be back in Texas for Fun Fun Fun Fest. She confessed to having Bjork and Kate Bush as influences.

A bit more experience on the road and I think her awkward performance issues will smooth out (her voice is already pretty perfect). I highly recommend going to see them. You can say you saw her before she got big. Just think, the last person to open for Santigold on tour was Rye Rye.

Personal Bias: I like art that is somewhat intellectually challenging. Bring on the weirdos!

The Crowd: Way more dudes than I expected. I love Santigold, and so do music bloggers, but I was having a hard time getting a handle on her real-world popularity, Turns out it's huge.

Overheard In the Crowd: Dude behind me who kept roaring like a lion instead of "whoo"ing or applauding or whatever it is normal people do.

Random Notebook Dump: "Do it for R. Kelly!"

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

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