LIVE: Fitz and The Tantrums at Upstate Concert Hall, 2/26/2020
Fitz and the Tantrums (FATT) has been on my radar for a lot longer than I’ve actually been actively listening to them. My father and I used to occasionally watch this show called Live from Daryl’s House. It began as a web show and later moved to public broadcast. Featuring the Hall half of the legendary duo Hall & Oates, Daryl Hall would invite artists that he listened to, admired, vibed with, etc. to come and play in his home studio and enjoy a sit down meal. They would cover a healthy mix of Hall & Oates songs and songs of the guests’ own creation. Fitz and the Tantrums made their appearance in 2010, which aired only two years after FATT had formed, and at that point, I think they were still barely on anyone’s radar. In this episode, I heard the group perform songs such as “Breakin’ the Chains of Love,” “Moneygrabber,” and “Picking Up The Pieces.” Even though the show has long since ended, and Daryl himself has moved, it still occupies the space as a performance venue, rightfully called Daryl’s House, in Pawling, NY.
For some inexplicable reason, even after hearing those powerhouse vocals of Noelle Scaggs, the slightly gravelly timbre of Fitz, and the accompaniment of the smooth saxophone of James King, for some crazy reason I never picked up any CDs (yeah, I still buy CDs, come at me). FATT appeared peripherally when I was in college. My fellow classmate, as part of a design project, makes up posters and promotional products for bands and fictional festival lineup posters and somewhere on that lineup I remember seeing the name “Fitz and The Tantrums.” Coincidentally, they even appeared on mine. While the band I hand chosen for my project was the hypnotic synthwave band M83, James King appeared as the saxophonist on M83’s arguably most famous song, “Midnight City,” a fact which I included as part of my design project. That was somewhere in the 2013-2014 range.
But no, even these random instances in college didn’t make me listen. I didn’t actually buy or seriously take a listen to their music until 2016 when I found out another one of my favorite bands, Finish Ticket, was opening up for them. It was then I took a good listen since I generally like to show up to shows somewhat educated on the content I’m about to partake in. I was instantly a fan of the upbeat, soulful pop music FATT created. Songs like “The Walker” had a contagious energy and a foot-tapping beat that was simply irresistible and you couldn’t help but sing along to it. Why is this backstory relevant? All of this historical context is just to say I’m an idiot for not listening to them more when I should have and could have. And now FATT has gained popularity in such a way that you, even if you don’t know them by name, have probably heard them. Recently you may have heard their new single “All the Feels” as the soundtrack to an ad for a cruise line, or you may have caught their interactively catchy song “Handclap” playing overhead from the Muzak as you throw your Cheerios into your cart at the grocery store. You were probably clapping along because you just can’t help it.
I had the expectations that these infectious beats and earworms would translate to a fun show, and that expectation never fell flat or faltered. FATT is a well-oiled machine, with grease that comes from prowess and expertise. Noelle and Fitz bopped about the stage in well-choreographed, synchronous side-steps, jumps, and shimmies, bathing in the vibrant stage lights. James King, sporting both an alto and baritone sax (the latter not something you frequently see used in at contemporary pop concert), enchanted the audience with each expert note. Noelle, the surefire powerhouse and music goddess of the band with her bejeweled mic, danced and kept time with a tambourine tapping on her hip. With her hair and sweat flying around her as she moved, she never stopped moving as if there was a fire burning beneath her heels. Even the saxophonist would move. King would move downstage as he played the alto. He would croon the instrument higher and higher up the scales at the teasing commanding gestures from Fitz, until topping out at the end of its range. Those beautiful brass keys would catch the golden lights and glow like beacons before King would step back into the shadows at stage left until his next solo beckoned him to emerge.
If there is one final thing to take away from this show, it is the chemistry that Noelle and Fitz share on stage. Their voices balance beautifully, even when they’re both focused on and belting their own parts. Their harmonies blend seamlessly and effortlessly. And as if their musical chemistry wasn’t enough, the physical chemistry they shared in their stage presence was top notch. They communicate with each other with their eyes during songs, a language spoken only by people who have a long history of friendship and knowledge of each other. And you can tell they just have fun riling up the audience together. For example, during their somewhat risque song “Complicated,” the two vocalists cozied up to each other and got entwined in each other’s bodies. They stared at each other with mock erotic intensity as they sang the line, “we do this every night / yeah, we fuck and then we fight / don’t ask me ‘bout the things we did.” These interactions thrilled the audience, who sang along with every lyric, and in turn the audience reaction thrilled the two singers, who wore triumphant cheshire cat grins in response.
From the beginning to the very end of their set, FATT was an energetic show. This was thanks in part to the lively supporting act Twin XL, a trio of musicians who had a blast on stage. They were fun to watch, but they were much too loud. Even with the custom-molded high-fidelity earplugs, by the end of their second song, my ears were already hurting. The bass in their music rattled me to the point where I could see my glasses vibrating on my face. The volume was just too much and could have been dialed back a few decibels, and I’m saying that as someone who has been to quite a few concerts. But Twin XL did their jobs with success, albeit I think it took a few songs to get there, and the crowd was warmed up and ready for the headliner.
Fitz and The Tantrums, after an incredibly fun, dynamic show had one more trick up their sleeve. Smoke machines and bursts from smoke cannons weren’t enough. During their (actual) finale, the aforementioned “The Walker,” the confetti cannons blasted with a hefty POP! and tens of thousands of pink and white papers rained down upon delighted concert-goers, gathering around their feet (and soaking up spilled beers) like snow piles. While I don’t envy the staff at Upstate Concert Hall who has to bring out the big guns to sweep up this mess, you can’t help but smile. What a spectacle. What a way to end a great show.
Set List: Get Right Back, Spark, Complicated, Out Of My League, 123456, Break The Walls, Maybe Yes, Fool, OCD, 6am, Living for the Weekend, Help, Fool’s Gold, Roll Up, Moneygrabber, Burn It Down, Shine, Hands Up
Encore: Handclap, All The Feels, The Walker