By Lucas Kovnesky OnMilwaukee Intern Published Sep 17, 2021 at 6:16 AM Photography: Ty Helbach

Throughout a colorfully illuminated and about 75 percent filled Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, Fitz and the Tantrums frontman Michael Fitzpatrick reiterated numerous times that the band had been waiting 18 months to play their music live again for their passionate and hungry music-loving fans. Through an equal parts funky, soulful and indie pop-filled setlist, Fitzpatrick and the rest of the six-person outfit lived up to their promises, proving that they were just as ravenous to get back to live shows as the electric Thursday night crowd was.

Back on the Summerfest bill after what seemed like an eternally long five-year gap between headlining shows at the Big Gig (at least there was a State Fair headliner show in there too), the Los Angeles based neo soul indie pop group graced the stage as if they had never left.

As 10 p.m. finally rolled around and the lights came up at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, so did the effervescent charisma of not only the frontman Fitzpatrick but his entire band behind him as well. The group seemed to come alive under the brightly shining red lights, proving to be not only infectious as hitmakers but also as live performers.


Beginning with the bass-thumping “OCD” and the irresistibly catchy melody of “Complicated,” the band’s vivacity clearly transferred from the stage and into the crowd right from the get-go. To get the crowd extra rambunctious, Fitz and the Tantrums' saxophonist James King even played one of the funkiest renditions of “On Wisconsin” that you’ll ever hear. Followed up by the indie pop hit, “Out of My League,” the band clearly was rocking with the same relentlessness that has made them a standout at many previous Summerfests of years past.

While many bands fall a bit short aside from their lead vocalist or frontman, Fitz and the Tantrums is an act where it was seemingly impossible not to recognize individual members. While Fitzpatrick and the aforementioned saxophonist King definitely did not miss a single beat throughout the perfectly paced set, neither did fellow vocalist Noelle Scaggs. Scaggs’ unwavering energy, groovy dance moves and all-around stage-buzzing presence allowed for songs like “Break the Walls” and “Don’t Gotta Work it Out,” where King was featured once again for a beautifully jazzy sax solo, to really grow in a live setting.

Fitz and the TantrumsX

Breezing through the upbeat 2019 release “Maybe Yes” and a cover of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” the band rolled into a jazzy inspired jam session with Scaggs once again gleefully interacting with the crowd. Shortly after, the bursting choruses of “Livin' for the Weekend” and “I Need Help!” allowed for Scaggs' efforts to not be squandered.

Fitzpatrick explained to the Summerfest crowd a number of times that some of these songs were some of the first instances that they had the opportunity to play these songs live due to the inability to tour for nearly the past two years. With that being said, the songs were delivered with the same passion that you could expect from a freshly released batch of songs. While Fitz crafted a setlist that showcased their most recent tunes, they made sure not to skip fan favorites such as “Fools Gold” and “Moneygrabber.”

Moving on to a performance of “Burn it Down,” which featured an impressive keyboard solo, and the crowd-captivating anthemic “I Just Wanna Shine" – which I instantly recognized from its appearance in a TV commercial – Fitzpatrick did not seem to lose a step as the clock turned past 11 p.m. and the indie pop dance party approached its encore.

Fitzpatrick called for the energy and volume of the crowd – a tactic that worked very effectively – to pull his bandmates back out on stage for a three-song encore consisting of the unmistakable smash hit “HandClap,” “All the Feels” and, of course, the whistle-filled melodious “The Walker.”

With a much talked about layoff from touring, and even longer layoff from gracing the stages of the Big Gig, Fitz and the Tantrums took the stage and performed like a band that had sorrowfully missed it. Judging by their irresistibly danceable, exuberant and sweet-sounding show, I can definitely tell that they did.