I’ve listened to Fitz And The Tantrums‘ blend of soul, jazz, Motown and indie rock on its debut album, Pickin’ Up The Pieces, on repeat for months now. But as I discovered at the Central Park SummerStage on Saturday, its recordings don’t hold up to the live performance at all.
Fitz And The Tantrums took the stage in classy suits, despite the humid, 80-degree weather, and jumped right into the charismatic “Don’t Gotta Work It Out.” The entire band had chemistry, but frontman Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick and frontwoman Noelle Scaggs were the undeniable stars of the show. Scaggs drew more attention though as she sang alongside Fitz, flirted with the audience and kept the beat with a tambourine. The band relied heavily on percussion, wind instruments and keyboards, and you barely even notice that there was no guitar present. Its absence was especially not missed on the title track, “Pickin’ Up The Pieces,” when saxophonist/flutist James King stepped into the spotlight with a lengthy flute solo. Fitz once stated that he wanted to create a big-sounding record without guitars, and he has clearly accomplished his goal.
The band played a couple of covers, the first being “Steady As She Goes” and the other being “Sweet Dreams.” The former, originally by the Raconteurs, is probably the best version of the song that I have ever heard. The special touch that Fitz adds to the song—a funky, soul style—takes the track away from the original slow-beat state and breathes life into the melody. “Sweet Dreams,” a haunting synth-pop track by the Eurythmics, was not at all besetting; the band transformed the song into a soul-pop track that didn’t hit the tone of the original song at all. Audience members who were hearing Fitz for the first time were able to sing along to a well-known song and get into the sound of the band at the same time.
The last song of the set was “Moneygrabber,” the first single off of the band’s album, which was definitely the best track in the show thanks in part to the energy from the crowd and the playfulness of the band. When the players started to “get low” on stage, crouching close to the floor, everyone in the audience was expected to do the same. Scaggs and Fitz even called out to the few obvious audience members who were still standing up, and soon enough everyone was crouched and ready to jump up at the chorus. And when this energetic band comes at you full force and tells you to jump, the only acceptable response is to ask “How high?”
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