BERKELEY'S NEWS • SEPTEMBER 26, 2022

No clashing influences by Fitz and the Tantrums at Fox Theater

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APRIL 07, 2014

It’s a difficult feat these days for a band to play songs rooted in a specific genre while avoiding words like “gimmick” or even prefixes like “neo-.” Consider the Black Keys, whose attempts to revive blues rock became overshadowed by a desire to hemorrhage retro-flavored production instead of writing blues-inspired songs. To maintain some shred of authenticity, persistence is key, and talent doesn’t hurt either. Fortunately for soul-based Fitz & the Tantrums, none of these elements are in short supply. As proven by the band’s show at the Fox Theater in Oakland on April 3, neither Fitz nor his Tantrums are putting on any sort of front in their emulation of soul music.

Much of the group’s success in this respect comes from the dynamic, almost sensual rapport between its two singers, Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs. The performance of this relationship was definitely fictional, but whether recorded or live, a listener can’t help but become entranced by the Eden-like perfection of their paired embodiments of masculinity and femininity. Their songs are all soaked in themes of love and its pitfalls, and the way the singers shared their stage, often moving and singing in response to the other, lent credence to their lovestruck mythos.

Oddly, their willingness to mix influences when appropriate actually helps maintain their style too, preventing their songwriting from losing its distinct verve by instilling in their music a bit of variety instead of straining to remain an ostensibly pure soul act. The fruits of this mixture are what gave the band’s live execution its spirited crowd-command, in addition to flavoring the sound of its latest album, More Than Just a Dream, with its organic sweetness.

“The last record, Pickin’ Up the Pieces, really had … soul influence … but then underneath that we had an ’80s influence,” explained bassist Joseph Karnes in an interview with The Daily Californian. “With this record, we just flipped the dynamic and put the ’80s influences a little bit more in the foreground, and those ’60s influences are a little more in the background.”

The augmented 1980s influence is clear from the throbbing beats, fuzzy synths and even the presence of guitars on the newer album. Regardless, saxophonist James King and keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna have hardly abandoned their original posts to execute these changes. If anything, the ’80s influence only frames the original sound in a different sort of production. In the group’s performance, the two albums meshed together seamlessly, and the soulful manner of the former was unobscured by the latter’s changes.

“On the new record, there’s not as much horns,” Karnes admitted. “Live, we throw in some more horns on songs that don’t have horns necessarily on the record, and it helps bridge the gap between the two records sonically.” This bridge functions pretty solidly, but even without its help, the songs of the Tantrums’ newer record aren’t very sonically dissimilar from those of the band’s first. Beyond the horns, the group’s universally earnest energy forms this bridge, particularly in person.

“It’s one of the challenges that we really thrive on — being able to project that energy all the way to the back of a crowd,” Karnes said. This end was unmistakably met at the Fox by Fitz & the Tantrums, whose stage-presence mastery revealed a band utterly in its element, comfortably moving forward without forgetting where it started.

Contact Erik Weiner at 

LAST UPDATED

APRIL 07, 2014


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