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Music Review

Sass master Santogold takes it to the limit

By James Reed
Globe Staff / September 23, 2008
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Fifteen minutes before Santogold started her set, a DJ stepped onstage and sounded an alarm on his laptop, the kind you hear in movies when there's been a prison break or a tornado is about to touch down on some unassuming town.

How fitting, then, that it was a bit of foreshadowing Saturday night as the MySpace Tour rolled into the Paradise Rock Club. Santogold, the stage name of Brooklyn sass master Santi White, headlined the event, and it was clear that it's the last time audiences will see her in a mid-size club setting. This woman is built for theaters and maybe even arenas.

But nothing becomes a new sensation more than a healthy sense of modesty, and Santogold looked humbled by the reception at the Paradise. The sellout crowd danced and roared along with the first song, "You'll Find a Way," and Santogold ate it up: "I love you guys already!" she squealed as she slapped hands with the front row.

It's easy to see why Santogold has had such a banner year. Fans don't limit themselves to just one genre anymore, and Santogold is like one-stop shopping for people who like indie rock's energy, hip-hop's spirit, and the tricked-out delights of '80s electro-pop. It all comes with a voice that's nearly inscrutable at times, from her Bollywood croon on the breakdown in "Say Aha" to an M.I.A.-like chant on "Creator."

Her songs are exuberant and relentless, often becoming unlikely anthems. When she sang "Shove It," the chorus, repeated four times, felt tailor-made for fist pumping and railing against your oppressor of choice: "We think you're a joke/ Shove your hope where it don't shine."

Because her album is so front-loaded with the jams, it's easy to forget that Santogold can bring it down a notch, too. She retooled "Lights Out" to sing it in half-time against the opening chords of Panda Bear's epic Beach Boys riff "Comfy in Nautica." And "Starstruck" crawled along with a filthy undercurrent of grimy bass that rumbled in your chest.

Santogold is touring with a DJ who cues up her tracks, but just as indispensable are her two deadpan back-up dancers. In matching sunglasses and stone-faced expressions, they were charged with the occasional back-up vocal and fits of fierce, synchronized dancing. They played the straight women to Santogold's flashy superstar who didn't shy away from a self-aggrandizing boast on the closing "Unstoppable": "I got to be unstoppable." But it's not really bragging when it's true.

Like Santogold, the opening acts were all over the map. Low vs Diamond's lead singer, Lucas Field, exuded serious indie-rock swagger and confidence. And Plastic Little, a trio of MCs from Philadelphia with an assist from their DJ who spit a few rhymes himself, brought a spirit of '91 (wow, that was really a Boyz II Men snippet they just dropped) and a penchant for old-school hip-hop. They got bonus points for rhyming "Aerosmith" with "terrorist."

Trouble Andrew, however, was hard to take seriously, which might be the point. His stage attire said it best: the mullet, gold cassette chain, Suicidal Tendencies T-shirt, quasi-Iggy Pop drone, and sunglasses. Only New York could cough up this guy and I know that's true because it says so on - where else? - MySpace.

James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com.

MySpace Tour

With Santogold, Trouble Andrew, Plastic Little, and Low vs Diamond

At: Paradise Rock Club, Saturday

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