WMC 2009: The Ting Tings and Santigold at Ultra Music Festival

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John Hood
The Ting Tings at Day 1 of Ultra Music Festival.
Ultra Music Festival: Santigold, The Ting Tings
Friday, March 27, 2009
Bicentennial Park, Miami

Better Than: The best pop you've never heard.

Hard to say the best way to tell when I'm most thrilled by a band. Is it when I'm so giddy with excitement that can't stop shooting the show? Or is it when I gotta pocket the camera and pull-out the notebook because I've lost my ability to focus? Then again, maybe it's when I'm so taken aback I can neither click nor write, so I just stand there and take in the sheer pleasure of the experience.

But I've got a job to do, and allowing myself to wallow in joy while a band's on stage won't help me get out the story. So I shoot. And I write. And, more often then not, I'm fumbling around trying to do both. And when I'm done it's generally the act who gets both the most shots and the most ink that has gotten to me more.

From the double-digits on my camera's shot clock and the pages upon pages of scribbled scrawl, I'd say Santigold and The Ting Tings came up tied last night. Both had me clicking and scribbling as if my world was on fire. And when I was finished, I knew I had just witnessed two of the best pop acts in music.

Better yet, after a song or three I ended-up pocketing both camera and notebook so I could simply enjoy myself.

And boy, did I have a blast! Santigold, you know, has in one short year gone from Next Big Thing to veritable Superstar. Her songs are keen and catchy, her cred is street ready, and her continued success has been assured.

On Ultra's main stage the Philly soul sensation showed just why she's reached the peak so quickly. Deft and endearing, her patented brand of mashed classicism harks back to an era when a singer knew how to become the sum of her song. In other words: how to mean it, and how to mean it with a whole heart.

I was over in the Press Lounge when I heard the tell-tale stirrings of "Say Aha" cutting through the Fest's cacophony and I mad a mad dash to the stage front along with thousands of others. That I could make out the track at all between the roar of the crowd and the boom of so many DJs is either a testament to Santigold's uniqueness or some small miracle in audible science. I'm thinking it's a bit of both. Then again, maybe my ears are just tuned in to her.

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John Hood
Santigold invited festival-goers on stage during her Ultra performance.
I wouldn't be the first. And from the way Santigold swayed the throngs, I won't be the last. "Say" led to a sequence of some of her more reggae-fied content, including, I think, "You'll Find a Way" (like I said, I ditched the notebook), and the set continued to build until Santi stopped everything and asked: "Where's my dancers?"

That, of course, was the cue for a motley crew of ragtag fan-boys and -girls to leap the tall barrier and join their hero on stage for what turned out to be a startling rendition of "Creator." I don't know who dug it more: the kids themselves, who were obviously basking in the glory of it all, or Santi, who seemed to be as at ease with a stageful of misfits as she was leading them in the first place.

I do know this: Santigold gave a dozen young Ultra-goers an extra-special experience they'll never forget. Come to think of it, I won't either.

Just as I won't forget The Tings Tings coming out and blowing down the sky. Singer/guitarist Katie White, of course, is a knockout. A stylish young lass of fetching proportion. And if the squeals of the girls in the crowd mean anything, drummer/vocalist Jules de Martino is a bit of a sexy man himself. In fact there were few occasions when he didn't take the opportunity to stand up at the kit and flex in the knowingness of it all.

But The Tings are no mere face plates - they're pop tunesmiths of the highest order. Opening up with the boisterous and perfectly apropos "Great DJ" and segueing through a series of radio-ready favorites, including the bopping "Shut Up and Let Me Go," the two-piece turned their set into a singalong the size of a small town. And by the time they closed with the immortally catchy "That's Not My Name" there wasn't a voice in the crowd that hadn't become a full-throated convert.

So, writing about, shooting and taking in two of pop's latest crazes pretty much back-to-back on Ultra's main stage (Perry Ferrell sexed it up in between, but that's another story)... I'd say life is pretty much perfect.

Personal Bias: Like I'm fond of pointing out (and The Hold Steady sang about), I survived the '80s once already. But I've no compunction about hearing 'em evoked all over again.

Random Detail: The Ting Tings' Katie White is perhaps the only person in the world who can make a gray frock come off like a kaleidoscopic ensemble.

By the Way: Santigold will be on this summer's Bacardi B-Live Tour with MSTRKRFT, A-Trak, Jazzy Jeff and many of the acts who just played the B-Live bash at Blade. At press time there's no date for Miami, but we can hope the brand won't forsake its hometown.

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John Hood