Fitz and the Tantrums @ The Depot 07.03

Posted July 6, 2012 in

Fitz and The Tantrums. Photo:
There aren’t a lot of things that make me feel patriotic. Not that I have any major qualms with this great country of ours"it’s one of the only places in the world where I can get a taco that’s made out of Doritos. I’ve just never gotten misty eyed over someone waving a flag while Lee Greenwood sings “God Bless the U.S.A.” After spending a night with Fitz and the Tantrums, however, I realized that when artists take a quintessentially American music staple like soul and douse it in Los Angeles swagger, I get all gushy about living in a country that makes this brand of awesome possible.

When the group took the stage and started their set, my mind was blown on several different levels. First of all, there was nary a six-string to be seen on stage. Joseph Karnes provided the backbone of their set with his improvisational and funky bass lines, but neither Fitz nor any of the Tantrums played rhythm guitar. This broke my brain just a little bit. How can a band function without at least one guitarist? The answer to this question is to include a sax player who knows how to get the most out of his instrument. I’ve never seen someone “shred” a saxophone, but that’s the only word that can appropriately describe James King in his element. In addition to his sax, King broke out a flute for an extensive solo at one point"an endeavor that put the jazz flute stylings of Ron Burgundy to shame.

The stars of the show would be Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs. Fitz is a tall, lean drink of water with a streak of platinum blonde hair that swung back and forth as he bobbed his head to the soulful rhythms of his ensemble. He performed like a buttoned-up version of Iggy Pop"frenetic but not batshit crazy. Where Fitz brought a bit of glam to the table, Scaggs provided a whole lot of old-school soul. Sporting a close-cut hairdo and channeling Tina Turner, Scaggs presented an interesting contrast to Fitz’s vocal style. I kept hoping for a song or two that really showcased Scaggs’ stellar voice, but I had to satisfy myself with a handful of her vocal breakouts. In addition to complementing each other vocally, Fitz and Scaggs have created this sexy, onstage chemistry that adds a burst of drama to their performance. Each song became its own little one-act play as they slinked next to each other during one verse only to shove each other out of the way during the next.

They played a solid set overall, but there were a few standouts worth mentioning. On “Tighter,” a melancholy tune that could be a companion piece to Percy Sledge’s “The Dark End of the Street,” Keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna managed to blend a cocktail lounge piano with a funerary church organ, while Fitz and Scaggs performed like two jilted lovers. Another standout was “News 4 U,” a fantastically unapologetic kiss-off to an evil ex, which Fitz kicked off by dedicating it to anyone who felt just a little bit pissed off. “Breaking the Chains of Love” and “Moneygrabber” were the songs that best showcased Fitz and the Tantrums as a band. The whole group comes together nicely, with opportunities for each of them to shine individually. In addition to their original work, the group performed a few covers. When they launched into their soulful spin on The Raconteurs’ “Steady As She Goes,” I geeked out a little bit"it happens when I discover that I share a mutual love of Jack White with a rock star.

The true mark of a great band is how they treat their audience when they’re done. I’ve been to several concerts where the band fills the space between songs with condescending remarks about Utah. This bugs me. I just shelled out how much for a ticket and you’re going to spend time bitching about how my state isn’t cool enough for you? I’m happy to report that Fitz and the Tantrums were very polite during their show. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I respect that. They wrapped up their show with some genuinely nice things to say about the audience who came out to party on a Tuesday night, and they even stuck around at their merch table to say hi, take pictures and chat with anyone who wanted to meet them. By some unexpected twist of fate, a PR dude from X96 hooked me up with a wristband with access to the front of the line that was forming along the bar. When I asked Fitz how he liked playing Salt Lake, he said, “It’s been two years since our last visit, and it was far too long. Salt Lake was great tonight!”

In retrospect, spending the eve of Independence Day with such down-to-earth performers who are working hard to revitalize soul, got me stoked to watch fireworks blow up and reflect on why listening to American music is the best way to understand where we’ve been and where we’re going as a country.
Fitz and The Tantrums. Photo: