Sunday, November 23, 2014

Frenzied Outburst: Fitz & the Tantrums Throw Down, Fantastically, at the Riv -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Fitz & the Tantrums
w/ opening act Big Data
Riviera Theatre, Chicago
November 22 (2nd show 11/23)

There are few things I find myself kvetching about with more regularity than the sparsity of new rock artists that excite me.

As referenced in a 2012 blog article that elaborated on this gripe, back whenever creating a Google Profile was a new thing, as part of one's capsule a question was posed that pondered:

What are you searching for? 

My answer: The next Nirvana

Not only was I, and still remain, a huge fan of that hallowed Seattle band, but in my opinion--humble or otherwise--no greater rock artist has come along since.

I say this with great deference to many wonderful bands that arose in the roughly same 1990-95 period, including favorites such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Radiohead, the Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day, Weezer, Blur, Oasis, Foo Fighters, Nine Inch Nails, Dinosaur Jr. and Garbage. (Two blog lists about my favorite rock artists and the best alternative acts since 1987 may be of interest.)

Though more scarce, there are also a handful of bands hailing from the early 21st century (or close to it) that I have found worthwhile, most notably Arcade Fire, The Killers, System of a Down, The Black Keys, The New Pornographers, Maximo Park and The White Stripes, though I haven't been taken with Jack White solo nearly as much as I think I'm supposed to.

But in terms of anyone really new, say with band members in their 20s, there's essentially no one I can name as beguiling me.

I like Cage the Elephant, but not historically and they're already hitting their 30s.

Prior to the show I went to on Saturday night, I verified via my concert database that since 2010 I had attended 165 concerts--and not one was by a headliner who had released their debut album during this decade. (Excepting a few "new old" acts, such as The Both, a duo comprised of rock vets Aimee Mann and Ted Leo.)

Fitz & the Tantrums change the above statement, as they are a band comprised of musicians I never knew of previously and which released their first album--Pickin' Up the Pieces--in August 2010.

So although their two highest-profile members--lead singer & namesake Michael Fitzpatrick and vocalist Noelle Scaggs--are in their mid-40s and 30s respectively, with the latter having spent 10 years fronting a soul band called The Rebirth, for my purposes they count as a new rock band.

Even though to call them a dance pop band with R&B, soul and rock stylings might be more accurate.

After they played Lollapalooza in 2011, my friends Paolo and Sarah spoke very highly of them. So I made a point of watching the live stream of this year's festival performance in Chicago, and was very impressed with their energy, catchy songs and stagecraft.

I liked what I heard from their 2013 album, More Than Just a Dream, and my sister Allison was also familiar with Fitz & the Tantrums, including having had their music featured in dance classes she's taken.

Thus we wound up at the Riviera on Saturday night.

No, Fitz & the Tantrums are not the next Nirvana.

Nor the next Arcade Fire.

And being my first concert since seeing Stevie Wonder play Songs in the Key of Life in its entirety did nothing to alleviate the sense that this is not an act for the ages, nor one for which the words "substance" and "significance" will adorn the rest of this review or likely many others.

All that said, and contributing to my not quite being able to award a full @@@@@, Fitz & the Tantrums were nonetheless outstanding.


For if not historic, they are great at what they do, and in terms of acute fun--equating to me getting up to kinda, sorta dance quite a bit--the concert was as enjoyable as I could have hoped.

Fitzpatrick and Scaggs make a great tandem and the highest-energy of many high-energy songs--"Break the Walls" and "Spark"--were among the early highlights of a near 90-minute, 17 song set. 

The setlist appears to be standard from city to city--this one from Boston is exact to Chicago's first of two sold out shows--but as this was an act I was seeing for the first time, it didn't matter. The singers and the rest of the band were spirited and gracious enough that I never got a sense of their act being staid or too by-the-book.

So even though their mid-set cover of The Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" wasn't a surprise, it was a pleasure nonetheless.

Two albums into their career, with the bulk of the songs played coming from the newer album, a certain amount of sameness was likely unavoidable as the performance stretched beyond that of a festival set.

Still, tunes like "Out of My League," "Fools Gold" and "L.O.V." were all singalong and shake your groove thing--yup, I'm old--delights, while encores "MoneyGrabber" and "The Walker" (see video below) had the house up for grabs.

Though their sound certainly isn't brand new, I can't readily cite anyone else that Fitz & the Tantrums are like.

And thus even if their "novelty" isn't earth-shattering, for me amidst a concert year featuring many typically recurrent and treasured acts--Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, etc., etc.--the newness of Fitz & the Tantrums felt acutely joyful, likely elevating my fondness for a great performance in itself.

So unless you're even more of a curmudgeon than me, and really can't stand an overt dance beat intruding on your rock concert experience, I think Fitz & the Tantrums--with all the caveats above--qualifies as a new band well-worth knowing about.

Forgetting all my long-winded pontificating above--now I tell you!--assessing any concert experience really comes down to 5 basic questions:

Did I like it? Did it fulfill my hopes & expectations in all ways? Did I get my money's worth? Would I recommend the artist? Would I see them again? 

In this case, for all of the above, the same answer Fitz:



Opening the show was Big Data, whose sound byte description as "electronic" belies a sound that was nowhere near as dirgy or blippy as that often connotes.

With a drummer, bassist and powerful female singer accompanying a guy creating electronic noises, they were more so a rock band with electronic underpinings, featuring a fun stage curtain (and free accompanying hand fans for the audience) while clearly relishing their opening slot.

Their throwback '80s cover was Hall & Oates' "Private Eyes," but originals like "The Business of Emotion" and "Dangerous"--the latter having earned some popularity--came off rather well, as well.

Here is a clip of Fitz & the Tantrums' show-closing "The Walker," posted to YouTube by Steve Chicago Concerts:

No comments: