Not so long ago, my significant other suggested that we slip away from the drudgeries of responsible parenthood for an evening.
“KPRI radio’s gonna have a free concert, and I think you’ll like the band. They’re kinda R&Bish”, she said, knowing full well my weakness for that genre.
To start with, I’d never heard of the band, Fitz and the Tantrums. Sounded a little violent in an off-beat sort of way. And then there was the fact that they were playing at La Costa, the fabled five star resort started, so the story goes, many decades (and owners) ago with a pile of teamster/mafia cash looking for a laundry. As a regular guy, I get shy around big money, so even if the old stories about La Costa weren’t true, I had visions of being charged mega bucks for a bottle of water and coming up embarrassed when my debit card was rejected.
As it turned out, I had nothing to fear. Jimmy Hoffa’s hand didn’t come crashing out of a cement sidewalk as I was walking over to the show, and, while there certainly were opportunities abounding to pay resort-style mark ups on things, the whole experience was very positive. And the band revived a lot of the old stax/motown memory modules that I’d long ago thought were consigned to the dustbins of history.
Here’s the deal: Fitz and the Tantrums are not a revival band. While their songs all evoke the production values and straightforward songwriting stylisms of the motown/stax era, the music is original. It’s what New York Times reviewer Rob Hoerburger calls “the equivalent of a farm-to-turntable groove…pinpoint harmony, sophisticated songcraft, serious vocal or playing chops”.
Little did I suspect that I was going to see would be representative of the groundswell of what some critics are dubbing a new wave in the genre. We’re talking about eighties’ kids of fifties’ parents who are making this music their own: Mayer Hawthorne, Eli (Paperboy) Reed, Kings Go Forth, Aloe Blacc, Jamie Lidell, Soul Track Mind, and Fitz and the Tantrums.
Michael Fitzpatrick and the Tantrums played their first gig less than two years ago. The debut album, “Pickin’ Up the Pieces,” came out in August, and the single “MoneyGrabber” is already getting nationwide airplay. And, as it turns out, this show wasn’t their first foray into San Diego:
“We did a show at the Casbah in San Diego a month or so ago. The ends of songs are the solo sections where Jeremy [Ruzumna] might be doing a Farfisa solo or something and he was just on fire that night. John [Wicks] just laid into the drums even harder and we were already at 100 percent and then Jeremy just started shredding. The energy was so electric that I started to uncontrollably laugh and I looked around and everybody in the audience was equally having the same experience. I’m actually getting chills talking about it! We were all simultaneously losing our minds at what he was doing in that moment. And the reason is—the way that the stage is set up at the Casbah, somebody can stand just next to the keyboardist on the side. I remember him telling me after—he was like, ‘We did “Rich Girls” and I’m playing the solo and I look over at this guy who just sort of looks back at me like, “Nahhhhh.”’ He was so angered by that moment that he was like, ‘I’m gonna show this guy!’ So the next song he just laid it all out.” Interview by Chris Ziegler, for LA Record.
The Tantrums have built a following in La-La land with an energetic live show and a handful of excellent tunes. As front man, Fitz is charismatic, bringing to mind Brian Ferry with a dash of Sam Cooke. Singer Noelle Scaggs acts as a foil for Fitzpatrick and a cheerleader for the band, all the while laying down impressive vocals of her own. And get this: the band has NO GUITAR PLAYER. Solos are laid down by saxophonist James King or farfisa playin’ organist Jeremy Ruzumna, backed by the tight and unrelenting groove of drummer John Wicks, and bassist Ethan Phillips.
Their show at La Costa, which was just supposed to offer a “taste” of what the band can do, ran twice as long as scheduled. The crowd, which I initially worried might prove to be too uptight to boogie, danced in the aisles, on their seats and in the streets as Fitz and Tantrums strutted through the night with smiles on their faces, leaving their songs in our hearts.
Oh, and once again… thanks to KPRI for a hassle free evening (none of the usual concert BS) and my significant other for being right (as she always is).