Rainbow Kitten Surprise sweats it out on the big stage at ACL Fest

“OK, who drew the short straw? Rainbow Kitten Surprise? Congratulations, you get to play straight into the sun at the peak of the afternoon on the hottest day of ACL Fest.”

Stage placements don’t go like that, of course, as everything’s worked out well before weather forecasts arrive. But the North Carolina band definitely got a tough assignment at their first Austin City Limits Music Festival. The upside: They were on one of the fest’s two biggest stages. The downside: It was, to paraphrase singer Sam Melo, “hot as (add your favorite expletive here).”

Still, the five high-spirited organic-rockers made the best of it. “Hey, you’ve got your friends with you,” Melo encouraged sweaty festgoers midset. “Me too. It’s the only reason I’m out here.”

Indeed, Rainbow Kitten Surprise seems like a tightly bonded bunch. As a vocalist with no instrument responsibilities, Melo is free to engage in frequent bursts of physical expression, from high kicks to swirling twirls to near-leaps into the crowd. Bassist Charlie Holt often mirrors his jumps and dips, his moves accentuated by grunge-worthy hair that rivals the length of Melo’s grizzly-caliber beard.

Singer Sam Melo and bassist Charlie Holt of Rainbow Kitten Surprise perform during the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Austin, Texas, on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

Drummer Jess Haney and guitarists Ethan Goodpaster and Darrick Keller round out the lineup, which covers a lot of stylistic ground during the course of the set, from rock to soul to funk to pop to hip-hop and more. The vocals stayed up-front throughout, a credit both to the band’s arrangements and the skillfulness of their sound crew, which got a well-deserved shoutout from Melo near the end of the band’s hourlong performance.

The crowd thinned out a bit for the second half of their set, likely more because there’s little shade at the American Express Stage than for any musical reasons. Melo kindly tossed cans of water to a few folks in the crowd at one point. A couple of intriguing new songs mixed in with older material, including one that appeared to be called “Free Fall” — as close as they came to a Tom Petty tribute, though they probably could have pulled that off well if they’d tried.

And no, there were no rainbows, nor kittens, nor really much in the way of surprises. We’ll forgive them for that band name, though, because they seem like a nice bunch of guys. Here’s hoping they get a little cloud cover for Weekend Two.

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