Photo: Matthew Salacuse
Rainbow Kitten Surprise is a band that defies all definition. With an eclectic sound that draws elements from classic folk, hip-hop, and rock, the band is a veritable chameleon in the world of popular music. However, there is one feature that is present throughout each of the group’s songs – a captivating story. Frontman Sam Melo’s dexterous lyrics delivered over the band’s uniquely narrative playstyle condenses a vast expanse of emotions and experiences into a cohesive, consumable performance. On June 9, the North Carolina-based band played an intimate show at The Troubadour in West Hollywood, CA, and Ones to Watch was lucky enough to stop by and see what stories the band had to tell.
Though each Rainbow Kitten Surprise show has a compelling narrative, we were lucky enough to catch a performance that had a particularly relevant message. The band opened with one of the marquee tracks off of their most recent release, “It’s Called: Freefall,” a haunting folk-rock-tinged song that addresses internal conflict. On the track, Melo sings,
“Called to the devil and the devil said, ‘Hey, why you been calling this late?
It’s like 2 AM and the bars all close at ten in hell, that’s a rule I made’
Anyway, you say you’re too busy saving everybody else to save yourself
And you don’t want no help, oh well
That’s the story to tell”
This tale of internal conflict is particularly relevant for both the band and this particular show. The Troubadour is located in West Hollywood, the historic gay district of Los Angeles. Additionally, this performance coincided with the West Hollywood Pride Parade and associated celebrations during a year where the LGBTQ+ community has faced particular hardship, with the advancement of legislation like Donald Trump’s recently upheld ban on transgender enrollment in the military. Well, it just so happens that two of the members of the five-piece band are also members of the LGBTQ+ community – singer Sam Melo is gay and bassist Charlie Holt is trans.
Photo: Brady Moses
While Holt has been openly trans for some time now, Melo only came out as gay alongside the release of Rainbow Kitten Surprise’s 2018 album, How to: Friend, Love, Freefall. In fact, Melo publicly came out through one of the tracks off of the project, “Hide.” Though he wrote the song in 2015, it wasn’t released until three years later. In an interview with VICE, he said,
“I thought that it might be a step too far, because there are just so few songs that talk about it, you know? Like can you say ‘him’ in a song? As a boy, can you do that? Because especially if the song were to be a hit, then immediately we’re poster children, you know?”
“Hide” was accompanied by one of the most impactful music videos of last year. The video, which in part contains a micro-documentary directed by Kyle Thrash, follows four drag queens in New Orleans throughout their day to day life. Each of the queens conceals their identities for a variety of reasons, citing fear of bodily harm or damaging familial relationships. At the end of the video, one of the queens reveals her persona to her father – and in true pride month spirit, he declares, “I’ll always be your biggest fan.”
RKS’ performance of “Hide” at the Troubadour felt particularly profound. The building shook as the crowded room stomped along to Holt’s pulsing bass, sending their love through every floorboard of the venue. Melo, who was raised half in Appalachian North Carolina and half in a Dominican Republic mission, belted out the lyrics with every fiber of his being, driving home the importance of embracing your truth while the crowd sang along. Naturally, cheers climaxed when Melo confessed, “He’s a better kisser than you’d think, Mom.”
Photo: Brady Moses
Rainbow Kitten Surprise has expertly used the spotlight to promote the welfare of LGBTQ+ people. In addition to championing equality via their music, the band has frequently partnered with Equality NC, the oldest statewide organization in the country dedicated to LGBTQ+ rights, donating portions of ticket and merch sales to the nonprofit.
The band’s Pride Weekend performance at the Troubadour was a truly spectacular celebration of equality, community, and love – not to mention a kickass rock show. It was the utmost honor for Ones to Watch to be in attendance, and we are proud to join Rainbow Kitten Surprise and countless other artists in the promotion of equality through the greatest unifier, music. Happy Pride Month.