Fitz & the Tantrums, Mikky Ekko Prove to Be “More Than Just a Dream” on 2018 Tour

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Posted July 6, 2018 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0
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“Stay” songwriter blossoms, Fitz and his Tantrums bring the soul at Southeast tour gig

Riding the waves of the soul revivalism sound sparked by Adele and Amy Winehouse in the new century, Fitz & the Tantrums are restless in their pursuit to fancy those hungry for funky good music. And although they have been around for a decade, their big break seems more recent. Thanks to the power of licensing, their throwback-tinged pop-soul has beamed into a number of households via television ads and sitcoms, starting with “MoneyGrabber” from their first LP Pickin’ Up the Pieces.

Coming out of an era when Cee Lo Green, Raphael Sadiq, Duffy and Mayer Hawthorne were cashing in on the soul rebirth, The Tantrums — anchored by frontman Michael Fitzpatrick — are still rolling along in their sound and have outlasted many of their fellow contemporaries. They recently made a tour stop in Birmingham (June 3) at the 1300-standing capacity Iron City music hall after hitting up a litany of music festivals across the globe.

mikky-ironcity-02With Jesus long hair and a scruffy hipster beard, Louisiana-bred Mikky Ekko enters the stage first with his three-piece band, and transports us into a world of pop-rock that blends the Killers, Neon Trees and Maroon 5 into a glorious concoction. Using flashes of rock god confidence, he waved his hair like flying streamers and performed worthy cuts like “Light the Way,” “Just to Let Me Down” and “Rest in Pieces.” In between songs, he greeted the crowd with sweet affection, telling stories of being grateful to perform with Fitz & the Tantrums and for being appreciated by a crowded room. He also shared openly the frustrations he had being a Nashville resident and how extremely difficult it was to get gigs in the South, even in the bustling town of Music City.

But halfway into his set, Ekko jumps off the stage with his guitarist and serenades the crowd with his greatest acclaim to fame, “Stay,” a song he co-authored and collaborated with Rihanna on. The crowd is spellbound by the uniqueness of the moment as Ekko enlists the crowd at times for a hearty singalong.

After that moment, Ekko reminds the crowd with every passing song how many numbers he had left before departing. He didn’t need to do that. The crowd was sold by his decent college pop-rock and vocal brilliance. His voice was more raw and gritty when compared with the vocal stylings and timber sound experiments heard on his latest EP. Whether he executed frothy punk disco (“What’s It Like Now”) or hearty indie rock (“Blood on the Surface”), he pulled it off, proving to be an appetizing road choice for what was to come.

Thirty minutes later, Fitz and his foursome band hit the stage in glorious pompous fashion: A haunting overture pieced with choppy “More Than Just a Dream” soundbites, then greeted with flashy neon background lasers. It looked like a transport to a fun ‘80’s throwback party but the swinging rhythms of Motown and the adrenaline soul of a James Brown revue took audiences back a little further.

No, Fitz and the Tantrums isn’t a nostalgia act alone. Embedded underneath loads of retro are sweet modern melodic sensibilities that are hard to shake. “Get Right Back” is fun, supplied by a jubilant fist-pumping refrain (“hey, hey, hey”) and New Wave synths. This and their cluster of hits (“MoneyGrabber,” “Out of My League,” “Don’t Gotta Work It Out,” “The Walker”) are all glowing melodic treasures, stringing a sweet balance of R&B and pop.

fitz-ironcity-01A large chunk of More Than Just a Dream — their best album to date — was heard (the whole first side, to be exact), so was music from their latest, the self-titled album. Surprisingly, the newer material was better live, compared to the more mechanical pop exhibits of the album versions. “Get Right Back” shines the brightest, while “Fool” and “HandClap” with its B-52’s “Rock Lobster” bass lines fired up lots of excitement. “Roll Up” and “Burn It Down” are also pleasant to hear. But it’s “Run It,” a cute midtempo gem with Hall & Oates sweetness, that impresses the more, as Fitzpatrick emotionally croons like he’s losing at heartbreak. “Complicated” felt like a rollicking pep rally performed live, a major improvement from the robotic drum programming of the original. Also, “Walking Target” sways with a fiery Amy Winehouse-“Valerie” gusto, far better than the original. It’s heavily laden with soul and gospel hand claps, while co-lead vocalist Noelle Scaggs injects it with campmeeting revival joy using tambourine action.

To the band, Noelle acts like a possessed Sharon Jones. She’s never weary, amping the crowd with Simon Says crowd participation (the finger-turning “Roll Up”), personalized shoutouts and warm harmonies alongside Fitzpatrick. The crowd got a chance to hear her soulful leading on “6 AM” from the More Than Just a Dream LP. Although the ethereal production of the track is diluted by the band’s raw performance, both Scaggs and Fitzpatrick sound like they’re channeling Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell goodness.

By the time the band hammers through twelve-plus offerings including a James Brown-inspired take on the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This” with a colossal sax solo from James King and church organ swells by Jeremy Ruzumna, they return with a fierce encore climaxing with a confetti-spraying “The Walker.”

After a few crowd handshakes from the first row of bystanders, Fitz & the Tantrums took their final bow and disappeared from the stage. They gave a complete show, drilling their mightiest earworms deeper into our consciousnesses. Since Fitz and the Tantrums is now two years old, a new album must be on the horizon. And it’s a little scary to think about because some of their current playlist will get the ax to make room for new content. What will disappear will certainly be really good stuff. Judging from the immediate crowd reactions, this summer tour is their greatest homework assignment to date. It’ll determine what will eventually fade away.

Photography: J Matthew Cobb, HiFi Magazine


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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