At The Ritz Ybor City, Rainbow Kitten Surprise looked like a band bound to break in the biggest way

Can Sam Melo save rock and roll?

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click to enlarge Rainbow Kitten Surprise plays The Ritz in Ybor City, Florida on September 17, 2018. - Yvonne Gougelet
Yvonne Gougelet
Rainbow Kitten Surprise plays The Ritz in Ybor City, Florida on September 17, 2018.

Some say that guitar-based rock music is dead, and while the stats (streams for hip-hop, pop and EDM are up, rock’s profitability is down) or old guard would most certainly like you to believe that the rock and roll bandleader is extinct, do yourself a favor and don’t believe the hype.

At least see Sam Melo lead Rainbow Kitten Surprise (RKS) through a set first.

In his hands, every song seems to be an anthem. And for just over an hour on Monday night, what felt like about a thousand fans sang along to nearly every word of the Boone, North Carolina band’s 18-song set.

PHOTOS
Here are 31 amazing photos of Rainbow Kitten Surprise at The Ritz Ybor

Whether it was the heavy groove on set opener “Fever Pitch,” the pseudo-tropi-pop of “Cold Love” or the frenetic bounce of “Cocaine Jesus,” Melo seemed to have the crowd hooked on every syllable as he lurched, leaned, pirouetted and hurled himself around the stage all while wearing an outfit that looked like the J. Crew marketing intern starter pack (Melo, drenched in sweat ended up removing his plaid button down during an encore take on “Run,” and the man cannot be defined by mere clothing).

Melo is no rock Jesus (Jesus wouldn’t bravely sing back-to-back songs about being into boys the way Melo did “Holy War” and “Hide,” would he?), but he is the perfect frontman for a generation that demands not just panache, but truthfulness and an brutal, unabashed honesty from its mic-swinging heroes.

VOILA!
Rainbow Kitten Surprise's Tampa concert moved from Orpheum to The Ritz Ybor City

Melo connects with fans on schitzo songs like “First Class,” and you can feel his insecurity burning a hole through the room on “Lady Lie,” RKS’ ode to Shakespeare and the festival life. At no time was this more evident than it was on a run through “Goodnight Chicago” where Melo sings about killing a man in Tampa Bay (in an interview with CL, he explained that he went through a strange transition here in the Bay area). During the song, Melo leaned, face-to-face, directly into guitarist Darrick "Bozzy" Keller as he delivered the lines, “Don’t shut down on me now, don’t shut down on me” over and over again.

KILLER KITTEN
Interview: Sam Melo on why Rainbow Kitten Surprise’s road to rock infamy ran through Tampa Bay

It’s unclear if he was pleading with his RKS co-founder or trying to rile up the crowd, but the repetition had a propulsive, almost locomotive, power. And that was the big takeaway from Monday night’s show. The gig was originally booked at the much smaller Orpheum just a few blocks away before being moved down the street (at max capacity, the Ritz can hold about a 1000 more people than Orpheum). RKS’ next Bay area gig is in December for 97X’s Next Big Thing happening at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, which can hold about 20,000 people.

RKS isn’t the biggest band on that bill (that title belongs to Panic! At The Disco), but it is the only true rock band on there that looks powerful enough and poised to truly pounce, go big and “save” rock and roll after all.

See more photos from the show via photos.cltampa.com. Look below to hear a playlist featuring songs from the set.

Setlist
Fever Pitch
Seven
Cold Love
When It Lands
Counting Cards
All’s Well That Ends
Matchbox
Cocaine Jesus
Moody Orange
Devil Like Me
Goodnight Chicago
First Class
Lady Lie
Holy War
Hide
It’s Called Freefall
That’s My Shit

Run

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About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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