Last Wednesday night, Nov. 13th in Memorial Auditorium, three bands came together for an evening that was both exceptionally groovy and uniquely personal.
Ever since 2009, when I first heard the soulfully retro single, “Moneygrabber” by the neo-soul, indie pop band Fitz and the Tantrums, I’ve been in love (and maybe even a little obsessed) with the band. I’ve had the opportunity to see FATT perform twice, once in 2009 (for a whopping 5 dollars!) and another time last summer. So yeah, I was pretty pumped to see my favorite band for the third time right here in Athens.
Beginning with the synth-heavy, punk techno styling’s of the opening act, Beat Club, the tone of the evening was set. Soon co-headliners Capital Cities of “Safe and Sound” fame took the stage and completely took control. Memorial Auditorium disappeared and the audience was thrust back to the disco days. With unreasonably catchy songs like “Kangaroo Court” and “I Sold My Bed, But Not My Stereo” the audience had no choice but to dance…or at least nod their heads.
The best part of the act was that, like FATT, Capital Cities recognizes the throwback aspect of their music, and they fully embraced it in their show. There is no better example of this than their irresistibly danceable cover of Bee Gees hit, “Stayin’ Alive”. Not gonna lie, I was hoping the crowd would part so I could let out my inner Tony Manero.
Aside from the 70s vibe, Capital Cities had one other ace up their sleeves: Spencer Ludwig. Ludwig is the exuberant and maddeningly talented trumpet player of Capital Cities, who alone took the act to a higher level. I’m not exaggerating when I say that there was no one at that show, from the roadies to the people in the back row, who was not hungrily eating up the delicious hooks Ludwig was cooking up for them.
After the wildly energetic and entertaining Capital Cities show, the bar had been set pretty high. Soon Fitz and the Tantrums emerged and were diving into “Get Away”, a quick tempo, bee-bopping track off their new album, “More Than Just a Dream.” The band sounded good, but some of the energy coming off of Capital Cities had fizzled out. As they continued the first half of the set, the mood of the band just seemed off.
The mood I sensed was explained when Michael Fitzpatrick (AKA Fitz,) turned from the crowd, then quickly resurfaced saying that he had almost been brought to tears by the energy of the crowd. He further explained that the energy from the crowd is what sustains them night after night, being away from home and loved ones.
Even as an experienced attendee of FATT concerts, I have never seen the frontman so close to tears. This was no contrived bit of stage banter, meant to pump up the crowd every night; this was real emotion.
I quickly had a whole new perspective on the show. The band launched into their second half, amping up the energy, and delivering the “Are-you-guys–feeling-sexy?!” type of stage presence I remembered from the 2009 show, this time with the finesse of an experienced touring band.
The highlights included FATT’s always-entertaining cover of Eurythmics song, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and a stripped down version of “Last Raindrop”, utilizing the soulful powerhouse vocals of leading lady Noelle Scaggs to turn the upbeat love song into a raw, emotional power ballad.
All of this led to a finale that rocked Templeton-Blackburn Memorial Auditorium in a way she hadn’t been rocked before. As the band jumped into their closer, “LOV”, saxophonist, James King, took over. King played some of the jazziest sax imaginable and just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get any more bumping, Ludwig emerged, blasting his trumpet. Soon King and Ludwig were going back and forth in an epic battle of the horns. Luckily the battle ended peacefully as they combined forces to create a two-man horn section that could make a dead man dance again.
As I left the auditorium that night, still a little shook up from the battle that ensued, my mind drifted to the lyrics of FATT song, “Spark”: “We’re not your typical, that ain’t what we’re here for.”
These lyrics are the most perfect way to describe this stellar show.
They didn’t have to play a great show for a small crowd in Athens, OH on a cold Wednesday night. The bands could have simply gone through the motions and called it a night. But that’s not what they’re here for. Instead they took the intimate setting and gave a personal and impressively musical performance that won’t soon be forgotten by this FATT fan.