Fitz and the Tantrums
A Concert Review
If Motown was injected with a dose of HGH, Fitz and the Tantrums is what you would get. A Motown whose sound bites a little harder, has a backbeat which swings more aggressively, and lyrically, waxes substantially darker. They are the band I put on when I want to dance around my house in a tank top and underwear. A musical cross-pollination of sorts, Fitz and The Tantrums (made up of Michael Fitzpatrick, Noelle Scaggs, James King, Joseph Karnes, Jeremy Ruzumna, and John Wicks) would be seated at the same high school lunch table as Mark Ronson and the late, great Ms. Amy Winehouse.
The Hollywood Bowl marked group’s largest non-festival show to date opening for Ben Harper, as they have made a sizable footprint this year with their incredible showmanship, hard work, and exhaustive touring. Fitz and The Tantrums are a throwback to be sure; and not just because they are heavily influenced by R&B greats of ‘60s but because they are a band that exude a sincerity and joy in their performance that is rarely seen today among the landscape of Top 40 talking heads. They are playful, but don’t be mistaken, they do not fuck around. You are hard-pressed today to find another band with as much personality and charisma – a kind that transcends their record, and permeates both the stage and audience. To borrow from the late Donna Summer, Fitz and all the Tantrums work hard for their money.
Amidst an unfamiliar audience, the band – fronted by duo Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs – not only brought the Hollywood Bowl audience to their feet, but had them dancing and singing in the aisles by the second song of the set. Just as any fan would command nothing less than perfection from the band they love, Fitz and the Tantrums equally demands the most out of their audiences. They can yell at this ‘bitch’ to sing louder anytime. To be honest, watching these guys perform makes me tired…it also puts a ridiculous, child-like grin on my face too. But it is truly exhausting and wondrous to see how invested this group is in their performance and ensuring the audience has as much fun watching, as they do performing. Seriously, please, please, please, somebody hand Michael Fitzpatrick a freakin’ cape.
Aesthetically speaking, Fitzpatrick is the rock n’ roll love child of David Bowie and Annie Lennox. It is only fitting then that he would be the one to bridge the gap between his band’s signature soulful sound, and ‘80s dance music. After opening with album mainstays, mid-set, the band launched into their cover of The Eurythmics Sweet Dreams. Propelled by a down and dirty organ, Fitz’s Sweet Dreams is a soul-infused, devilishly syncopated version of the song that could blow the roof off of the Motown Mansion. The re-imagined arrangement of this song is a clear testament to the group’s musical fluency and crystal-clear identity. In fact, they were so sensationally tight on Sunday night that nary a strand of Fitzpatrick’s white-streaked coif dared flutter out of place.
In their matching electric coral-colored ensembles, Fitzpatrick and Scaggs took us through an emotional whirlwind during the band’s set: during Don’t Gotta Work it Out the two went head to head, both literally and in a vocal showdown, then they whisked us to the lively yet longing new track 6 AM with a refrain that is still looping in my head, and on to the mercurial and revenge-filled News 4 U. It would be easy to give into the gimmick behind a band like Fitz and The Tantrums with their new wave hair, eccentric outfits, and definitive sound, but the truth is there is such an earnestness behind them you cannot help but love every minute of it.
Magnolia Memoir is that alluring yet dangerous seductress of a mysterious bygone era. Gorgeous and demure this melodious killer inches their way quietly closer, lulling you into a peaceful trance before unleashing deadly force. Their track Anymore lurks amid the smoke-filled bars caught somewhere between 1930 and today. Lead singer Mela Lee is in turn, both beautifully blithe and sullen. They’re offering a really nice acoustic download of their The Perfect Crime EP. And if you are in Los Angeles be sure to check out one of their shows before they head off on a tour of Australia.
Lianne La Havas
US sanctions might be exceptionally tight with the middle east, but the US is eating up British imports the way Honey Boo Boo puts away ‘Sketti’ with ketchup. After nearly single-handedly re-invigorating the female soul genre in the last half-decade with a trail blazed by Amy Winehouse and Adele, Britain has now handed us 23 year old Lianne La Havas. Oozing a youthful femininity, La Havas boasts a serene smile and delicate eyelashes behind her guitar. She is making waves with her single, the catchy and rhetorical, Is You Love Big Enough? off the similarly titled album. La Havas seems to bring together the best of Janelle Monae’s quirky pep and Alice Smith’s rumbling ache for a neo-soul folk music that – from one song to the next – will set you dancing and then have you masochistically throwing back a whiskey-filled glass of liquid embers. While I cannot deny the genius of her current single, her song Forget is more than primed to be her next export. From its intro, it showcases a head-rocking solo guitar riff that sets the attitudinal tone for this song of sweet lyrical revenge. A preemptive rebuttal of rekindled advances, La Havas lays down the law as she sets her brazen lover on his way…tail between legs “I think it’s time for you to leave/ I gave this peace of mind for free/ So if you head my sound advice/ there is no need to tell you twice.”
Ra Ra Riot
Forgetting all we know of Ra Ra Riot, Beta Love is in and of itself an enjoyable amalgamation of beat-heavy synths and strings. Wes Miles describes the trappings of love and his search for a mate in the metaphorical context of technology and an ever-changing digital world; nothing short of apropos as a wafting generation of Millenials find their way among a slew of romantic fits and starts. Every love seems to be in beta release while the kinks of a such a burgeoning enterprise work their way out.
Forget the wistful strings and macabre romanticism of The Orchard and headiness of The Rhumb Line. Forget the awe-inspriing, insidiously fast tempo. Here, Miles has seemingly bridged the gap between his Ra Ra Riot day job and electro-pop-daydream side project, Discovery with buddy and Vampire Weekend’s Jack of all trades, Rostam Batmanglij. The paragon of chamber pop has decidedly shifted directions. With little more than a nod to its roots Beta Love screams change from even just the 1s and 0s of its name alone. Don’t get me wrong the song still retains the familiar melodies and nuances of quintessential Ra Ra Riot but instead of strings, those elements have now been sythned up.
A necessary shift after the departure of Cellist Alexandra Lawn or a more premeditated re-direction? I mean Lawn not only played one of the fastest cellos in the west, she fucking plucked the strings of my heart. And so while I can enjoy Beta Love for what it is, I cannot truly forget the world from where Ra Ra Riot came; and I thus find myself in a beta love of my own…or at least until the full album releases January 22, 2013.
A Concert Review
Just a single moniker, Zak Waters, is a nearly a misnomer, the tremendous arrangement and showmanship of his entire ensemble will have you wide eyed and short of breath. On a sleepy Sunday night, this diminutive LA native, backed by two gentlemen who I’m pretty sure moonlight as his bodyguards, rocked the unassuming Bootleg Theater off its ass. In a pair of black jeans that even I would need some Crisco to get out of, Waters made it clear early on what he brings to the music scene by launching into a version of Curtis Mayfield’s Move on Up. A wonderfully woven tapestry of thoughtful restraint and dance floor synths; it is combination that stays true to the original while providing a crisp, pulsating beat for impromptu dance parties. What Waters manages to do at the same time is both pay homage to the roots of funk while playing for laughs. On stage he lives (and pelvis thrusts) in a post-funk genre. This isn’t your Dad’s funk to be sure. Less George Clinton and Sly and the Family Stone, more Jamiroquai and Sam Sparro. It is the genre that rose from the ashes of the blur we like to call the 1970s – more buoyant than ever. Waters and his guitarist manned a pair of dueling keyboards for their electrified performance of his most recent single and video, Skinny Dipping in the Deep End. Built on a wave of synthesized emotion that steadily builds to a falsetto-fueled crescendo, Waters is pure adolescent fantasy played out on the dance floor. Don’t worry if you’re not sixteen anymore, it will take all of about ten seconds for him to make you feel as if you are.
In the Valley Below
A Concert Review
There has been a gaping, Rilo Kiley-sized hole in my heart since 2007 (officially, since 2011) and Wednesday night it grew just a bit smaller. The bowels of a former beaten-down-old-bra-warehouse-cum-perfomance-space, The Bootleg theater, was the scene of this momentous occasion. Essentially born in The Bootleg’s backyard of Echo Park, is In The Valley Below - an unassuming, if not enthralling band. Similarly unafraid, like Rilo Kiley, to explore seedier subject matter, they also share the ability to intricately meld the melancholy with a quietly building bravado. And though it is in the storytelling where these two bands depart, it is the familiar chords and style that make me eager to see what else In The Valley Below can deliver.
An old timey aesthetic has the chaps sporting suspenders, button-downs, and boots, while the lone lass, Angie Mattson, presents an angelic yet parochial floor length ensemble. A seemingly delicate young woman whose gossamer appearance belies a brooding Dahlia face which hints at so much more. She and co-frontman Jeff Mendel are an adorable duo that unleashed a haunting brand of goosebump-inducing music Wednesday night. From their somber entrance onto the stage, came forth a rumbling deluge of percussion that would carry the band’s performance through the evening.
Made up essentially of just three pieces (Angie’s voice the fourth piece), the group delivered a rich and stirring sound with a deep, gritty guitar rivaling the Black Keys. Mendel and Mattson present a united musical front, delivering layered vocals and a magnetic chemistry that is palpable off stage. From their opening number, Mattson sung at Mendel with an unflappable stare – and complete lack of understanding of personal space – as she heartrendingly pronounced at him, “I’ve been looking for a friend.” While I find this intensity to have ultimately served her and the band well, it also had me momentarily wondering if she had just spent time in Europe or something?
As a sparse audience soon filled in, the band truly hit its stride. A tight, calculated persona and sound had the room rocking out. A little bit ’70s alt bluesy rock, a little bit ’00s folk revivial; In The Valley Below is unmistakeably grounded and solid in structure and delivery. Like the heavy chains Mattson herself used that night to clank along to the beat, their songs are weighty, occasionally knee-jerking, and will not ever skulk easily away; they are emotional shackle of the best kind attaching itself not only to your ears, but to your soul as well. The music of In The Valley Below contains the elements to be truly inescapable.