As Royal Teeth and ZZ Ward made their way through the opening sets, the atmosphere at The Music Farm became as equally charged and full. While the bar front became easier to maneuver, the stage front was soon a writhing sea of bodies as the venue reached capacity.
Ever since I heard the wildly popular “MoneyGrabber” on mainstream radio, I knew I had to see Fitz and The Tantrums; if only to answer the question of whether they could bring the electricity of Pickin’ Up the Pieces to the live stage. Being fascinated with any and all things retro, the album grabbed me immediately with its throwback-soul-sentiment-meets-contemporary-Indie sound and unique choice of instrumentation (there is nary a guitar to be found on the album). And having missed them the first time they made the rounds of the Lowcountry, I finally had the chance to feed my curiosity.
Opening with the mid-tempo, head-bobber, “Don’t Gotta Work it Out” Michael Fitzpatrick et al. foreshadow the set to come–a revisiting of their debut full-length. Immediately, the piano-driven track features the Fitzpatrick/Scaggs vocal interplay dynamic that serves as the crux of much of their success. The opening track soon gives way to the “doo wop” ethos of “Winds of Change.” The demure track is driven by more tinkling piano and the backing honk fills of King’s saxophone. Despite the down-tempo two-track start, you can feel the band is slowly building momentum to their more agro tunes. They do just that with the Motown-laden title track, “Pickin’ Up the Pieces.” Scaggs channels a young Diana Ross in the second verse just before the tandem of vocals resumes. This has vintage R&B leanings from melody to the instrumentation. New track “Wake Up” opens to the driving bass line before giving way to the more Doo Wop piano and the baritone saxophone blasts. While I’ve heard rumors that there is a new album in the works, this solidified that at least they were writing new tracks. The opening groove organ notes of “Rich Girls” marks the near midpoint of the set and continues the heavy R&B vein running through the show. This version seemed a bit more urgent than the studio version and may even work better in its up-tempo incarnation. And at that point, forget anything you’ve just heard as the opening notes of the unmistakable Raconteurs hit “Steady As She Goes” blasts from the keyboard. Immediately I wondered how a soulful leaning Indie band was going to pull off a tune led by one of the better contemporary guitar players without any guitar. But Fitzpatrick and the band proved, as they did on their album, that guitars simply aren’t necessary for the music they want to make… covers included. The set was rounded out by Pieces’ “Tighter” and “L.O.V.” and another surprise cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” before closing out the night with the heavy-hitting, radio giant, “MoneyGrabber.”[youtube 7qDbSS-uoIM]
If you were to take one part David Byrne (minus the weirdness) and another part vintage Motown, you have the mash-up that is Fitz and The Tantrums. The commitment to R&B melody is done so well, that it doesn’t feel like “music from ago revival” but more like the band doesn’t have any qualms wearing their influence on their sleeves. And this review wouldn’t be complete without returning to the point I made earlier… where most bands rely on guitar to form a foundation or steady vein to their songs; Fitz and The Tantrums make an equal (if not more) amount of simply good music without them at all. Finally, it also speaks volumes when a band can bottle the lightning of a studio album and not only replicate it, but ramp it up on stage while still committing to the ethos of the songs. Turns out, I got my question answered after all.
by Chris West – firstname.lastname@example.org