June 23rd, 2012 | Published in Featured
By Jeffrey McClellan
Allow me to break the fourth wall for a moment. When The Cleveland Sound first learned Fitz and the Tantrums were planning on taking a break from recording the follow up to 2010’s #1 Top Heatseekers hit Pickin’ Up the Pieces, we knew it was going to be a memorable show. So memorable in fact, that when we showed up on Friday afternoon to Columbus’ LC Pavilion, we came loaded for bear, with not one but two photographers; the better to capture a killer live band playing a show not as part of a grand 75 date tour, but squeezing in as many festival appearances and single shows between recording sessions as possible. Suffice to say, Fitz and the Tantrums did not disappoint.
Before the main event, the sizeable crowd at the Pavilion were treated to a pair of up-and-coming openers. First on the bill were Fitz labelmates Royal Teeth. These Louisiana natives play an intense, infectious dance pop which immediately brings to mind contemporaries Arcade Fire, only with way more percussion. Their performance was ideal for the outdoor venue, evoking a nostalgia for summers past as the sun began to set behind the audience. The group have a flair for showmanship; for the last song of the evening, frontman Gary Larsen brought his mic and tom off the stage and into the crowd, as the band fired off confetti and streamers above him.
Next up was singer/songwriter ZZ Ward. Hailing from Oregon, Ward brings a sultry mix of old-school blues and hip-hop. Her vocal stylings were rock solid, with R&B underpinnings that balanced technique with a measured amount of grit. Her backing band was unfathomably tight; a blues-rock juggernaut whose thunderously funky grooves provided a massive palate for ZZ’s coy melodies. The performance was practically flawless; however, the group’s passion and fire proved a bit much on a few occasions for the limp-wristed electronic taped backdrop. Perhaps the loops and canned backing vocals were intended to bring a more current, hip sound to the show, but it was largely unnecessary, as the band’s talent along with ZZ’s terrific voice were more than capable of standing proud on their own without the need for any additional electronic frippery.
Fitz and the Tantrums have had a penchant for picking great openers; they seem to relish the challenge of following the best live acts they can find. As the last rays of the setting sun faded from view, they hit the stage with a ferocity that has become their trademark. From the very first downbeat, the band brought in the noise with an extra-heaping-helping of the funk. There is a rhythmic push and pull to their heavy neo-soul in the live context that simply can’t be conveyed on record; while their albums certainly capture the essence of the band’s massive sound, any true fan of this music has done themselves a grave disservice by missing their stellar live performance.
As they were taking a break from sessions for the new album, Fitz and the Tantrums predictably brought a grab-bag of musical goodies to the evening. The band debuted an as-yet unreleased tune “Out of My League”, a four on the floor funk-rock steamboat of a tune that brings a new twist to their instantly identifiable signature sound. Throughout the show, FATT seemed laser-focused not just on their own musicianship, but on making sure that every single soul in the house had a terrific time. The audience interaction was frequent and enthusiastic, and the set was clearly directed to those who came to shake whatever their parent or legal guardian gave them. As frontman Michael Fitzpatrick stated mid-set, “This is where the mother fuckin’ dance party will begin!”
After such a monumental performance, the requisite encore performance was a virtual inevitability. Fitz and the Tantrums brought a generous three-song postlude, starting with their live cover of the Eurhythmic’s ‘Sweet Dreams’, and ending with their instant classic ‘MoneyGrabber’, complete with the traditional mid-song interlude during which Fitz made their audience get low, calling out any stragglers with insult-comic jabs. These last tunes gave the band a chance to really stretch out, and display both their stellar musicianship and their wicked sense of humor.
This postlude displayed one of Fitz and the Tantrums’ most endearing qualities. Sure, they’ve got talent to burn, and a command of the stage that is the envy of their contemporaries; but they top it all with their overflowing generosity to their fans. Their willingness to play on so perilously close to Columbus’ strictly enforced 11pm noise curfew, their insistence that everyone in the audience not leave without stopping by the meet-and-greet table, and their sincere gratitude to a fanbase to which they have given so much all show that this is a group who believe in their fans the way their fans believe in them. On Friday night, they managed to take a break from their frantic recording schedule to give back just a little bit more.