November 29th, 2011 | Published in Featured
By Jeffrey McClellan
Los Angeles neo soul act Fitz and The Tantrums are the cream of the crop among today’s rising stars, and they have the hectic schedule to prove it. This year alone has included appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Conan (along with their tracks finding homes on the soundtracks of popular TV shows Criminal Minds, Desperate Housewives, and more). Their fall tour so far has consisted of 24 dates in the past 31 days, most of which played to sold-out venues, and ended with three sold out nights in Chicago; more dates are being added as we speak and currently run through January 2012. Cleveland has had three opportunities to host the band just in the past twelve months: In January they levelled the Grog Shop, followed by an appearance at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Summer in the City concert series, and finally last Tuesday’s show at the Beachland. With such a demanding schedule, it would be hard for anyone to blame them for phoning in the odd performance here and there. Fortunately the attendees of their recent show at the Beachland Ballroom know, “phoning it in” isn’t even in this hard-working band’s vocabulary.
Fitz and The Tantrums’ origin story reads like the stuff of rock legend. In 2008, frontman Michael Fitzpatrick came into the possession of a Conn electronic organ from an ex-girlfriend’s neighbor’s moving out sale. Fitzpatrick brought the vintage instrument home and, that very night, penned the band’s soul anthem, “Breaking the Chains of Love”. Fitzpatrick then phoned up saxophonist and college friend James King, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In addition to Fitzpatrick and King, Fitzs’ lineup includes keyboardist and former Macy Gray musical director Jeremy Ruzumna, sought after session players drummer John Wicks and bassist Joseph Karnes, and finally, vocal firebrand Noelle Scaggs.
The Beachland is a Cleveland landmark, erected in 1950 as the Croatian Liberty Home. The decor is classic ‘50s and ‘60s dancehall; despite being one of the smaller venues Fitz have played on this tour, it almost feels like the place was built specifically for their uptempo and updated Motown sound. The entrance is wallpapered with flyers for shows past, present, and future. It’s amazing that bands still use this forum to advertise their shows, as it seems any current billing would simply be lost in the white noise of a thousand other bands’ poster’s clamouring for attention.
I would be remiss not to mention the night’s opening act, FItz tourmates Walk the Moon. The group is indie rock, with a superheavy ‘80s influence, and supersquishy-sounding 80s keyboards to boot. They’re in love with the whole process of just being a band, and it shows in their quirky but accessible indie pop, such as show finale and entry for the Best Song Title Ever, “I Can Pick a Car Up All By Myself”.. This is nice guy music: it exudes a joyful exuberance that is as genuine as it is infectious. For those who missed out, they will be returning February 26th to the Beachland with Young the Giant. I’d highly recommend anyone who likes solid poppy rock anthems, John Hughes movies, or who grew up picking up automobiles attend.
This energetic… nay, enthusiastic performance would be an extremely difficult act to follow for most bands. But most bands aren’t the Fitz and The Tantrums. If you’re one of the five people in town who haven’t seen these cats play, it’s difficult to describe what an experience a Fitz show is. Fitzpatrick whips back and forth across the stage like a madman, his soulful croon not affected a whit by his constant frenetic dancing. Mr. Fitzpatrick has an instinctive command of the stage; when he tells his audience to “get down”, they Get The Hell Down… the entire set, there was not a soul in sight who didn’t at very least get their “I’m uncomfortable dancing in public but damn this is funky” groove on.
Who better to keep Fitzpatrick in check than soul singer extraordinaire Noelle Scaggs. Scaggs has serious R&B credibility in her own right, and it shows in the rapport she shares with her co-vocalist. Her lines are delivered with a sass that demands instant respect from her audience, and her stage presence is big enough not to be outgunned by even Fitz’s manic energy.
The rest of the band shines individually as well, but it is most fitting to speak of them as a single entity; not due to any lack of specific members’ talent shining through, but rather as a tribute to how unimaginably TIGHT this band is. In an age of Auto-tuned this and digitally edited that, “The Tantrums” are a testament to the level of raw musicianship required to hold down a rock-steady groove. All you young whipper-snappers with your Fruity Loops and your garage-sale 808’s, take note: this is how it’s done.
After all F.A.T.T. shows the whole band sticks around to meet with fans, and this night was no exception. Fitz and Co. mingled for a long time; signing merch, taking pictures, and swapping stories with anyone who wanted to hang out. This crew knows how to make their fans feel appreciated both on and off the stage; they often book promo events, record store shows, and other special activities at their tour stops to win over every last soul they can. There are politicians in election bids that don’t press this much flesh, and with this level of work ethic, Fitz and the Tantrums have “News 4 U”: they’re here to stay.- Jeffrey McClellan
[Check back next month for exclusive soundcheck and meet and greet coverage.]