Los Angeles’ Fitz & The Tantrums brought their revivalist funk-soul to The Crocodile last night, putting together a loud and lively set with just a few key ingredients and starting what looks to be a lasting relationship with the city and concertgoing people of Seattle.
Judging from the band’s full sound on record you wouldn’t really guess that there are only three to four instruments being played the entire time, so it was a bit surprising to see nothing but a drumset, bass, keyboard/organ and a couple of saxophones set up on stage. But as the set got underway with “Don’t Gotta Work it Out” – the tapping piano-chord verse blowing up into a big and soulful chorus, frontman Michael Fitzpatrick’s tenor leading the charge as a thick baritone sax line weaved through it all – it became clear that these guys don’t need much to recreate that golden soul sound. No guitars, not even a trumpet or trombone in the mix, just the basics. But these basic elements are done so impeccably that they throw their weight around and take up much more musical space than they should.
The band’s rhythm section – just two guys, mind you – was absolutely airtight. Drummer John Wicks (who’s a Seattle native) rocked a classic jazz-influenced style, with splashy cymbals and tight snare fills for added flair. The bassist held it down all night, laying down some funky, walking progressions and improvisations that likely could’ve stolen the spotlight for a few minutes if he wasn’t calmly planted towards the back of the stage all night. The melodic overlays to these solid grooves still came from equally impressive players. Their keyboardist/organinst sounded just as comfortable during the take-em-to-chuuch chord-based numbers as he was tearing through some wild Little Richard-style solos, and their saxophone player switched between a standard tenor sax and a burly baritone one that he blew with authority despite it nearly dwarfing his diminutive frame. He too threw in some tasteful solo bits when they were appropriate, most notably during their latest album’s title track “Pickin’ Up the Pieces,” when he played the crap out of a flute he brought out for that one song.
While the players were wholly impressive, the spotlight belonged to the phenomenal one-two punch of Fitzpatrick and “backup” vocalist Noelle Scaggs. Fitz – an unlikely but very apt soul crooner given his silver-streaked hair and punkish appearance – is clearly the frontman with it being “his” band and all, but Scaggs is only a backup in principle. A straight up force onstage, she shakes her hips, gyrates her body and rattles her red tambourine in a kind of possessed-by-the-music spell while delivering some seriously jaw-dropping vocal wails. The range, the ability to sustain notes, the soul, the style, she’s got it all and is one hell of a performer. She and Fitzpatrick exchanged banter, dance moves and facial expressions and nailed every harmony perfectly, capping off the driving instrumentation and fully rounding out their throwback sound.
Every song sounded great in its own right, from the upbeat selections like “Breakin’ the Chains of Love” and “Winds of Change,” to the slow-dance-worthy “Tighter” and “We Don’t Need No Love Songs.” They even started their encore with a funked-up version of The Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams” that they pulled off expertly, overshadowing the somewhat cliche song selection by giving it some soul power and warping it into a smooth-grooving number with their distinct stamp on it.
The crowd was completely into the show from start to finish, getting down to the danceable stuff, swaying and waving their hands to the slow stuff, and obeying every call for audience participation. During the smash-hit set closer “Moneygrabber,” Fitz successfully got a room full of older Seattle music fans (a stodgy bunch whether you like to admit it or not) to literally drop down to the floor and gradually work themselves back up and into a dancing frenzy as the song crescendoed into the final chorus. You know you’re doing something right when even the cool guys at the back bar are complying with a request like that.
At one point during the encore, Fitzpatrick said “Seattle, I have a feeling this is the start of a long-lasting love affair.” And judging from the quality of the performance, crowd response and overall vibe of the show, that feeling seems right on.