More Than Just a Dream: Fitz and the Tantrums

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

At the Electric Factory last Friday night, Fitz and the Tantrums got off to an exhilarating start on the fourth day of their tour. Opening band Big Data brought a casual, subdued vibe that quickly shifted to energy and excitement as Fitz and the Tantrums’ familiar neon heart sign began flashing and changing colors. The audience, who had watched Big Data in a drunken stupor, suddenly came to life as the opening beats of “Get Away” played. From the opening lyrics alone (“…I get a hit off/I get a kick off/being here with you!”), I knew that I was in for an intense and electrifying concert.

The band’s energy was evident all night long, most notably in lead vocalists Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs. The group evoked such intensity in their set that Scaggs’ red tambourine was transformed from an elementary school instrument into the heartbeat of the crowd as she thrashed it on stage while belting out soulful pop tunes with Fitzpatrick and teasing the crowd with her intoxicating movements. It was an impressive feat indeed, and reflective of their entire one and a half hour set.

Fitz and the Tantrums, led by Fitzpatrick and Scaggs with James King (saxophone), John Wicks (drums), Joseph Karnes (bass guitar), and Jeremy Ruzumma (keyboard), is one of those bands that is on the precipice of mainstream fame. The relatively new band, formed in 2008 in LA, evoke a familiar retro pop sound but are not yet recognizable by name to most people. They released their debut album, “Pickin’ Up the Pieces,” in August 2010. Because of their unique retro-soulful sound, Rolling Stone named them the “Band to Watch” in 2011. After touring for three years, the group made an effort to broaden the sounds of their music and to distance themselves from the “retro band” label by exploring more new wave and indie-pop sounds. The band had their major-label debut with Elektra Records and released their second album, “More Than Just a Dream,” in early 2013.

The songs on “More Than Just a Dream” still contain soulful elements but are considerably more upbeat, and contain more electronic, new-wave, and hip-hop influences. Their unique sound sets Fitz and the Tantrums apart from other bands. You would probably recognize the catchy whistle melody throughout the song, “The Walker,” even if you don’t know the song or band by name. On Friday, the group performed hits like “The Walker” and “Out of My League” (both of which reached No. 1 on Billboard’s US Alternative Chart) alongside other songs from their latest album, including the soulful “6AM,” the emotional “Merry Go Round,” “Break the Walls,” and “Fools Gold.” They also sang “L.O.V.,” “Moneygrabber,” and the Motown-like “Breakin’ the Chains of Love” from their first album. The group also covered Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams,” which highlighted their musical versatility and helped to distinguish them for newer fans who may see them as just another pop band.

Toward the middle of the set, saxophonist and flutist James King stole the show with his extended saxophone solo. Amid dazzling lights and a neon heart flashing in time with the music, King’s solo mesmerized the audience. His charismatic stage presence matched the frenzied excitement of Fitzpatrick and Scaggs, who elicited audience participation by asking the crowd to crouch down and then jump up with the beat. Their interaction with the audience made us feel like we were part of the performance and kept the excitement and energy high.

Fitzpatrick and Scaggs captivated the audience with their blended harmonies, especially when trading seductive glances or moving in sync with one another. With the heart-pounding light show, infectious energy, and uniquely soulful pop sounds, Fitz and the Tantrums really are more than just a dream.

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All photos by Sarah Tupchong ’17/The Daily Gazette.

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