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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014

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Neo-soul outfit Fitz and the Tantrums delivered a fiercely energetic show Friday night.
Neo-soul outfit Fitz and the Tantrums delivered a fiercely energetic show Friday night. (Photo: Summerfest)

Fitz and the Tantrums provide their own funky Fourth of July fireworks

Forget the Big Bang. Scratch the Fourth of July fireworks. Who needs them when you’ve got Fitz and the Tantrums lighting up Summerfest with their own infectious brand of bright, colorful, explosive fun?

The last time Fitz and the Tantrums hit the Big Gig back in 2012, the trendy neo-soul outfit was placed on the Potawatomi Bingo Casino Stage (now the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage). It was certainly odd placement, choosing a moderately sized, closed-in venue for an increasingly popular band whose on-stage energy levels register well above moderately sized and could doubtfully ever be confined.  

Two years and several more hit singles later, Summerfest got it right, putting Fitz and the Tantrums on a stage – the Briggs and Stratton Big Backyard – worthy of their endless live electricity. There, lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick and company accepted their promotion and the demands of a bigger stage head on, delivering yet another contagiously energetic set that thrilled the crowd, filled to the brim with loud enthusiastic fans and one very peculiar owl on a stick (it was weird; don’t ask).

With a glowing blue heart-maze design in the background and a whole new album – last year’s "More Than Just a Dream" – of sassy breakup anthems in tow, the band cracked open the show with "Get Away" and "Don’t Gotta Work It Out." On both numbers, the energy levels were cranked to 11, with the audio mix rocking, Fitzpatrick’s vocals sounding great and getting the crowd moving, and his singing co-star Noelle Scaggs bouncing and grooving on stage as though her bones consisted solely of rubber and Slinkies (as well as bruising her tambourine to the beat with the joint duo of her hand and hip).

The group’s soulful sprint – though certainly not without interacting with the crowd – continued on into "Break the Walls." That was followed up by "Breakin’ the Chains of Love" and "Keepin Our Eyes Out." The former featured the first of many explosive and impressive sax solos from James King, while the latter put Fitzpatrick and Scaggs’ tight, hot harmonies on display. If they sounded a little off earlier on "Don’t Gotta Work It Out," here – and for the rest of the night – they were right on point.

The main takeaway, however, was that Fitzpatrick had the crowd in the palm of his hand. If he wanted them to sing along, the fans would start belting; if he wanted them to throw their hands or fists in the air, you could bet they’d be flying. He and Scaggs were certainly putting in an effort, and that, along with their charisma, was contagious. It almost felt rude not to join in their dancing and enthusiasm. The two had to towel off almost every other song, and it wouldn’t be surprising if some in the crowd broke out a sweat too just watching (even before Fitzpatrick’s reminder that they "don’t accept standing around and being on your cell phone").

Ironically enough, right after that announcement was the set’s brief, lone lull, the combination of "Spark" and "Dear Mr. President." "Spark" seemed to require more effort than usual from the two singers, and "Dear Mr. President" fell oddly between another rock number and a slow ballad. Both still sounded good, however, and on "Spark," Fitzpatrick and Scaggs were at least able to feed off of each other and unleash some of their palpable chemistry (which would make a furious return later on "6AM," with the cute little added touch of sixes in the stage lights).

The quick dip – if you even want to call it that – quickly disappeared as Fitz and the Tantrums charged into their jazzy rendition of "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)." Forget the original’s subdued, emotionless techno cool; this cover – heck, the whole set – was a sultry, funky firecracker, complete with manic yelling faces and drum swatting from Fitzpatrick. Another hit – this time an original, "Out of My League" – came next, much to the roaring glee of the crowd.

After the bass-booming "House On Fire," Fitzpatrick quickly extinguished what sounded to be a little altercation in the crowd ("this is a show about love," he preached, before demanding they behave or separate) and hopped into "Fools Gold." The song is their next single, and judging by the enthusiastic response, it’ll be another hit.

The band slowed it down one more time with "Last Raindrop" – a fine ballad made spectacular by the beautiful starry night of swaying cell phone screens and lighters in the crowd – before blasting out "Tell Me What Ya Here For" and the ecstatic finale "LOV," featuring one more sweet James King sax solo, Fitzpatrick erupting from the drums back onto the stage and an insane final breakdown. Even if there was no encore, it was a vigorously fun closer to a vigorously fun set.

Of course, there was an encore, with the vicious breakup kiss-off "MoneyGrabber" and the smash hit "The Walker." Both got the crowd excited one last time and even got them actually dancing and getting down ­– quite literally in the case of "MoneyGrabber" – on the bleachers, an impressive feat considering standing on the metal benches can grant wobbly, calcified knees to even the most spritely of teenagers. At the end, Fitz and the Tantrums wanted a dance party atmosphere, and they got pretty much that.

When Fitz and the Tantrums first came to Summerfest in 2011, they were merely the openers for the main act: Maroon 5. The headliner stage – now appropriately sized – is all theirs, and Friday night, they owned it. 

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