Santogold - a.k.a. Santi White, daughter of John Street's late adviser Ron White - is a cake that still needs some baking, both as a live performer and as a recording artist. Her recently released self-titled debut is a hit-or-miss affair - the singles are tight and stirring, but more than half the record qualifies as filler that never rises above the sum of its influences: Missing Persons, the Motels, Siouxsie & the Banshees, the Strokes.
Backed, as she was Tuesday night at the TLA, by just a DJ on a laptop and two dancer/backup singers (who I remain unconvinced actually sang a note, although their choreography was fierce and crisp, alternating between the robotic and the catatonic, with great effect) Santogold was the center of attention, with her blond bangs, citrus-colored Wayfarers, floral-print housedress and matching leggings.
And her candied contralto cut through the steamy TLA air with the clarion enunciation of a playground jump-rope rhyme, especially when paired with her recorded vocal on the choruses. The echoey, dub-ed out pop of "Say Aha" and "Unstoppable" set the dance floor aflame. And both the electro-pagan hunch of "Creator" (as recently heard in a Bud Light commercial playing somewhere near you) and the Banshee howl at the moon that is "My Superman" sounded just like the record.
And that was part of the problem. Minus the live band that she is sometimes known to use for live performances, Santogold's music all sounded, well, canned.
Which is just fine for 90 percent of hip-hop and dance music - in fact, the canned-ness often makes it sound better. But too many of Santogold's best songs - "L.E.S. Artistes," "You'll Find a Way," "Lights Out" - are straight-up pop-rock circa the dawn of MTV. And with that kind of music, there is something mildly deflating about watching someone sing song after song backed not by actual people playing guitar, bass, and drums in the moment - right in front of us, right now - but rather the freeze-dried perfection of a digital recording of people playing guitar, bass and drums, somewhere else, a long time ago.