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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Concert in a cave: Rainbow Kitten Surprise

Rainbow Kitten Surprise performed on Friday, April 8 at the Caverns in Pelham, a venue that amplified the typical spiritual nature of the band.
Red and green lights at Rainbow Kitten Surprise
Mattigan Kelly
Rainbow Kitten Surprised played at the Caverns in Pelham on Friday,

My favorite line from a Rainbow Kitten Surprise song goes: “Called to the Devil and the Devil said Hey! Why you been calling this late? It’s like 2 A.M. and the bars all close at 10 in hell, that’s a rule I made” from the track “It’s Called: Freefall.” 

It perfectly encapsulates the energy of a band whose prose often overpowers even their strongest guitar riffs, with spiritual and religious themes that often contrast lines of profane humor. If there’s a perfect venue for the band that balances said themes with strong bass, percussion and the bellowing voice of lead singer Ela Melo, it’s an echoey, high-ceilinged cave.

The Caverns, an ancient system of caves located in Tennessee’s Appalachia, was converted into a 1,200-person venue in 2017. They began hosting live performances in the “natural amphitheater” in 2018 after 30,000 square feet of soil and debris were safely excavated.

Members of Rainbow Kitten Surprise perform
Spiritual and religious themes meet profane humor in Rainbow Kitten Surprise’s music. (Hustler Multimedia/Mattigan Kelly) (Mattigan Kelly)

Truly, half of the experience at The Caverns is the venue, since the living cave is unique for each new visitor, thanks to tiny waterways that will continue to change its shape over time. Walking down the long entrance corridor, it felt as though I had entered the set of Fraggle Rock, complete with a towering stone roof and walls, dim lighting, loud rock music and other concert-goers dressed in bright oranges and purples (and some hairdos definitely resembled Fraggle characters). The comparisons to rock and roll puppets didn’t end there, as the rainbow neon lights and band outfits seemed to channel Jim Henson’s wildest imagination. 

One of my fellow concert-goers said, “No one ever says any other band sounds like Rainbow Kitten Surprise,” a statement that felt poignant throughout the night due to the band’s unique approach to music and performance. The band opened with the track “American Hero,” a song that explores a desperate plea for requited love while also hiding American exceptionalism metaphors. It was quite the entrance, lead singer Melo’s voice dripping with emotion as he pleaded, “I would do anything for you to love me … Like I’m an American hero, baby.”

The band brought fire to the crowd with their indie-rock classics “Fever Pitch” and “Our Song,” after which I was breathless from repeating back every line in the cool cavern air. But RKS did not steer away from crowd-pleasers including “Devil Like Me” and “Cocaine Jesus,” songs which together draw in 178,655,104 million monthly listeners on Spotify. These hits please a crowd for a reason: swaying ups and downs in rhythm and emotion, soulful and thoughtful lyrics that provoke somber reflection and vibrating bass that creates an almost spiritual experience live. It may have been the religious undertones in both of the tracks’ lyrics, but I felt as though I was watching an indie-alternative gospel concert, the boom of Melo’s vocals projecting across the cavernous space making it seem like a holy place. At least for those few hours in the cavern, it felt as though RKS had created an indie-rock Mecca. 

The setlist also included new tracks, including the recently released “Workout” and the unreleased “Love 4 Us,” “Drop Stop Roll” and “When I Call Your #.” These tracks showcase a new direction for the band, capturing a more modern singer-songwriter style of sing-talking. “Love 4 Us” reminded me of Tame Impala’s iconic synthesizer sound, melting different bridges together; Melo’s “Uh huhs” and gyrating hip thrusts on “Drop Stop Roll” brought to mind Elvis-level performance quality; and “When I Call Your #” reminded me of Kevin Abstract’s “talk-sing” approach.

Rainbow Kitten Surprise performs in front of neon lights
“No one ever says any other band sounds like Rainbow Kitten Surprise.” (Hustler Multimedia/Mattigan Kelly) (Mattigan Kelly)

My favorite moment of the night was when the band dove into a rendition of the track “Goodnight Chicago.” The emotional build in Melo’s voice alongside the skillful guitar runs by Darrick “Bozzy” Keller brought to life the song’s repeated chorus: “Don’t shut down on me now … Don’t shut down on me … Don’t wait until I drown … To save me from the goodnight Chicago … I killed a man to make you love me.” The song has often brought me chills, but watching a legion of fans screech the tune back at the band live was overwhelming. 

The band’s rapport with each other brought so much joy to their lyrically heavier tracks. Melo might mock fight Bazzy, or Holt and Melo would kick in rhythm and spin in circles; quick winks and smiles cutting through somewhat dark lyrics. 

I am (mostly) sure the sanctity of the night stemmed from the band’s lyrical prowess, booming instrumentation and overall immense talent. But a part of me has to acknowledge the unique effects the Caverns brought to an RKS show, creating the perfect environment to host their spiritual sounds.

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About the Contributors
Sophie Edelman
Sophie Edelman, Former Staff Writer
Sophie Edelman (‘24) is studying cognitive, child and educational studies in Peabody College. As the former Music Correspondent, she is passionate about expanding coverage of local musicians and performances. She loves fish tacos, thrifting and working at Vanderbilt’s Acorn School! She can be contacted at [email protected].
Mattigan Kelly
Mattigan Kelly, Former Deputy Multimedia Director
Mattigan Kelly ('22) was Deputy Multimedia Director for The Vanderbilt Hustler. She has been on the staff since her freshman year. Mattigan majored in chemical engineering in the School for Engineering. In addition to shooting for The Hustler, she was the Development Coordinator for Camp Kesem at Vanderbilt, works in a research lab on campus and plays Club Tennis.
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