Santi White, or Santigold, knows the difference between being a musician and a performer. As the crowd chanted her name, she and two back up dancers entered the 9:30 Club stage on June 18th to the foreboding opening sounds of her new single “GO!” The club had played rap favorites “Next Episode” and “Watch the Throne” during the set change, so the crowd was warmed up and jumped right into dancing and pumping their fists along to Santigold’s chant of “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!”
The backup dancers abandoned their golden pom-poms for sledge hammers as Santigold crooned the opening lines of “L.E.S. Artistes,” physically acting out the song’s metaphor of building a wall. Next were “Lights Out” and “Say Aha,” singles off Santigold’s (then called “Santogold”) 2008 self-titled debut album. After an action-packed early set, Santi White addressed the crowd. Exceedingly friendly and humble, Santi said that she loves playing DC and had done so three or four times before, opening for Architecture in Helsinki and Bad Brains. Giggling, she told the story of opening for Bad Brains:
I was SO nervous! And I don’t drink…but I drank. And had false confidence from two vodka cranberries. And I came out and said to the crowd, “You need more energy!” And someone yelled back, “YOU need more energy!” So now I’m back, and I have more energy.
And have more energy, she did! Her voice was strong and her demeanor peppy. The crowd responded by erupting into a full-out dance party, mimicking the dynamism emanating from the stage.
She and her backup dancers cycled through several outfit changes (including a large donkey costume) and kept up a constant vivacity throughout the show. Santigold’s performance displayed a marked departure from stereotypical rap/hip-hop culture in which women are often scantily-clad and dancing provocatively. Santigold and her dancers wore exceedingly stylish outfits that covered up all their bits, and their dance moves were sharp, innovative, and relentlessly energetic. Rhythms and beats in her songs were punctuated by shoulder shrugs and punches, the dancers enhancing the music without distracting from it.
Only having two albums to date, Santigold did not have a tremendous amount of material to draw from, so the crowd got what it expected—songs off of her debut album (with the notable exception of “I’m a Lady”) and her 2012 release, Master of My Make Believe. She supplemented the set with “B.O.O.T.A.Y.” and “Get it Up,” two previous collaborative work with other artists.
The crowd had clearly spent time listening to and enjoying Master of My Make Believe. Although it had been released less than two months prior to the show, many sung along to “Disparate Youth,” “This Isn’t our Parade,” and “The Keepers.” These new songs slowed the set, bringing a more serious feel to the 9:30 Club as Santigold sang on themes of societal discontent and the drive for a better world.
Before things got too serious, Santigold asked the crowd, “Who’s warmed up enough to come dance up here? Let me rephrase—who’s confident that they’re the best dancer here?” Hands shot up in the air, Santi singling out a man on the balcony, saying that if he could make it down from the rafters, he should dance on stage with her. Confident dancers flooded the stage, the man from the balcony, having made it, greeted by a hug and kiss from Santi. Once the group was assembled, they gave it their all, dancing passionately to “Creator.”
Once the droves of dancers had vacated the stage, Santigold played through “Freak Like Me” and “Starstruck.” She then goaded the crowd into chanting “DC Go Hard!” before playing “Brooklyn Go Hard," a Jay-Z song on which she once sang backup vocals. Next, she apologized to family friends in the audience for lewd lyrics, saying, “I’m really sorry, but I’m going to do ‘Look at These Hoes’ next, and it’s vulgar!”
Santigold closed on “Fame,” exiting the stage before coming back for an encore of “You’ll Find a Way,” and bringing the night to a final close with “B.O.O.T.A.Y.” The crowd left sweaty, out of breath, and elated, ecstatic from a night of vigorous dancing and a stellar performance by Santigold.