On record, Fitz and the Tantrums is cool and sleek. Its most popular tunes, “Out of My League” and “Hand Clap,” mix soul and indie pop for a sound that is simultaneously relaxed and carefully engineered, but at the Fox Theater on Oct. 12, the group put on a concert that diverged impressively from its polished reputation.
A psychedelic watercolor of stage lights pulsed to the forceful, syncopated beat of “Get Right Back” in a surreal materialization of energy. Noelle Scaggs and Michael Fitzpatrick swung around the stage, their movements perfectly contradicting their easy harmony in the popular new anthem about individuality and dynamism.
The juxtaposition between the poise embodied by the band’s studio recordings and the effect of the show’s glaring rainbow lights and the singers’ unrestrained dancing (most notable in “Roll Up,” performed later in their set) was not lost on the audience. After the band’s first song, many people set their beer cups on the floor, to be knocked over in the tangle of legs, so their hands could be free to clap out the intoxicating beat in “Spark,” the following song.
The recorded version of “Spark” exhibits a Meghan Trainor-esque glossy jazziness that transitions evenly to a calmly anthemic chorus: “Don’t they know, the speaker is about to explode.” It’s an fussy, polished-to-perfection sound off the band’s sophomore album, featuring subdued vocals and a controlled beat.
Live, the speakers actually did sound like they were going to explode. The song was grungier and less calculated, with a fiercely enthused chorus that Fitz and Scaggs strained to sing over the pounding beat; it gave the lyrics an authenticity that was definitely missing on the edited track.
“I feel like a caged animal rattling on the doors all day just waiting until we go on stage,” keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna said in a phone interview. “(The crowd) gives the energy back to us, and it becomes this sort of feedback thing, and we become one giant undulating organism of awesomeness.”
All of this was true without the band losing any of its musicality — Scaggs and Fitz’s voices were always synced, and the saxophonist, James King, was given lengthier instrumental interludes to show off his nonchalant talent, keeping with the band’s original penchant for jazz. This was the case for the band’s closing song in its set, “L.O.V.,” where the music built up in a crazy, captivating whir to a sort of jazzy, instrumental bass drop, instead of the slow fade-out on the track.
By the end of the concert, the audience had experienced a whirlwind amalgam of the band’s old and new songs and sounds, despite its newest album, self-titled Fitz and the Tantrums, sounding more radio-ready than its previous two.
“The third album is really a distillation of what we’ve always been striving towards,” explained Ruzumna. “When you’re an audience member, you often times don’t necessarily expect or even want your favorite band to change, but what you don’t realize a lot of times is that the musicians in the band are people and that we’re ever-evolving; it’s as musicians and it’s as humans.”
Whatever sound Fitz and the Tantrums evolve into, the band members’ affinity for fun will always underlie it. The encore was, in essence, one big birthday bash for Scaggs: The band led the crowd in an uptempo rendition of “Happy Birthday” with the cute substitution of “bossy bitch” for “Noelle.” She blew out the candle on a cupcake to tremendous cheers.
The last chord of their last song, “Walker,” launched an obscene amount of fluttery pink and white birthday confetti into the air, and through that curtain of pure, symbolic celebration the band took its last bow. Everybody stayed to scoop up the confetti and take selfies in it — who wouldn’t want to immortalize a night that was such a blast?
Contact Olivia Jerram at [email protected].