Santigold is in charge at SXSW; don’t you forget it

She can rap, she can boast, she can croon, she can chirp, she can groove in sync with her backup dancers and she can run a show with a metaphorical riding crop. She started krumping before her first song was half over Friday night, and she choreographs Busby Berkeley-style routines that employ dollar store shopping carts.

She’s Santigold.

The Philly artist’s South by Southwest set at Stubb’s was plagued the entire time by a late start (thanks, rain) and sound problems (to which Crystal Castles might relate). But Santi White? Try to storm her winter palace. You won’t be able to take it. (Speaking of the song “Go!” … more later.)

(Eric Webb/American-Statesman)

(Eric Webb/American-Statesman)

White was unflagging in her desire to correct the sound problems plaguing her, even leaving stage between songs to get to the bottom of it. Too much reverb, bad enough mix that she couldn’t hear the track — still none of it stopped her from presiding over a party that crackled louder than the night’s lightning.

Breakout hit “L.E.S. Artistes” made an early appearance, and it was obvious from the singer’s furrowed brow and impeccable side-eye that she meant business, even as her backup dancers reenacted “Puttin’ On the Ritz” using selfie sticks. “Big Boss Big Time Business” found White embodying swagger and machismo over an underworld groove. And just as easily as she squared her shoulders on that number, she asserted her taunting, flirtatious dominance in swirly, syrupy, dangerous coos on “Who Be Lovin’ Me.”

By the time “Disparate Youth” came up on the setlist, White has made it clear that she was in control of the mayhem; an ensuing dance party and stage flooded with fest-goers were chaotic, but the singer was still the one pulling the strings.

“I’ll stop you when it’s too many,” White said as she commanded people to come up on stage. “Come on up. Bring ’em up.”

Newer track “Banshee,” which might be Santigold’s best song ever, was the kinetic highlight of the night, with the chorus’ “I’m having a good time” as an effective thesis. (See also: the line “Let me keep on preaching to my choir.” It is inconceivable that anyone would even dare try.) Coda “Can’t Get Enough Of Myself,” on second thought, probably better deserves that designation on title alone.

But if you’re looking for symbols in a pop concert, that mid-set rendition of “Go!” served the perfect blend of art, pop and an iron fist. For a song that says “People want my power/And they want my station,” it’s hard to get more literal than Santigold plucking a tiara off an audience member, donning it for a few seconds and the flinging it well past its starting point.

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