At the end of St. Lucia’s set, front man Jean-Philip Grobler credited opening act The Knocks, who discovered and introduced the band to their mutual record label Neon Gold, for his success. “Without The Knocks, there would be no St. Lucia,” Grobler said graciously into the mic. Grobler, who hails from Johannesberg, South Africa, is a long way from home, but his arrival in Boston seems natural and effortless (and judging by the enthusiasm of the crowd, much desired). In an increasingly digital and globalized cultural climate, it’s never been more possible than it is now to form meaningful connections with people around the world. Collaborations and partnerships can form that just twenty years ago might have been impossible. That The Knocks and St. Lucia found each other, and were able to play together at Royale on Thursday night, is a beautiful thing — and it made for a great show.
The Knocks are an insanely fun band, from their feel-good, danceable jams to their presentation. Ben “B-Roc” Ruttner and James “JPatt” Patterson sample and spin the room into a smiling whirl, picking up on familiar musical motifs (“Classic,” one of their more popular songs, brings up memories of Len’s sassy early-aughts favorite “Steal My Sunshine”) and then freshening them right up. It’s easy to understand the commercial appeal of music like this — it’s a total mood elevator. Live, Ruttner and Patterson are as dynamic as performers as can be standing behind a synth board, but they display savvy and prescience by introducing what might have been the best part of their performance — their two dancers. Dressed breezily in black-and-white sports jerseys and red shorts, The Knocks’ dancers move with ease and confidence, their routines coordinated with each other but very natural, the way we all wish we could dance. Adding this visual and interactive element took the set from fun to superfly.
St. Lucia’s particularly winsome brand of uplifted Phil Collins-style tropical pop was just what the doctor ordered on that cold evening, delivered hot and fresh in a highly polished package. Grobler leaped onstage with his band like a majestic zebra, his shirt and loafers decked in the zany black-and-white print. He’s really something to see live, appearing to weigh approximately one pound as he shows off slick stage moves to rival the best of them. Royale’s opulent decor made a striking but harmonious contrast with St. Lucia’s 80’s-style stage design, which included color-changing neon, lit-up cat eyes, and a wind machine that artfully tousled Grobler’s hair (yes, really). Their performance was cohesive, well-timed, generous, and very pretty — Grobler’s voice is as creamy and ambitious as it sounds in their recordings, and backing vocals round it out into a real treat.
Fan favorites like “Closer Than This” and “All Eyes On You” prompted crowd sing-a-longs and dancing, but it was when the band broke out their new unreleased material that things really got interesting. “None of this is really recorded yet. We’re still figuring it out,” Grobler said sheepishly before launching into a simple but very powerful number called “Love Someone.” This song is a guaranteed hit, a dressed-down R&B panty-dropper that’s got the same sweetness as the band’s earlier work honed to a smoky new edge.
It’s heartwarming to see two bands that love each other in their prime play together. The evening felt special, not only because it was live streamed to potentially millions of people on Yahoo Live!, but because of that meaningful partnership coming into fruition. Looking forward, there’s only more exciting new music to be made. Fingers crossed for some collaboration (a Knocks remix of “Love Someone,” maybe? Please say yes), and for a return tour through Boston soon.