Lollapalooza arrived as a Chicago destination festival in 2005.
While the festival’s domination of the local music scene certainly has its drawbacks, one of the more exciting aspects of Lollapalooza’s annual stay is the special aftershows that generally see bigger bands playing smaller clubs. As sort of a make good to local club venues, who lose large amounts of summer business to the festival, past aftershows have included bills as impressive as the live debut of Them Crooked Vultures at Metro and artists like MGMT or Kings of Leon at the House of Blues.
While this year’s most notable aftershow was probably the Foo Fighters appearance with The Joy Formidable at Metro, it was actually a show a few blocks away that piqued my interest: Fitz & The Tantrums at Schubas.
There is some irony in the fact that I was so excited to be seeing Fitz & The Tantrums at a small venue like Schubas… because not long ago, the band would have been lucky to even book a show in Chicago. Yet Saturday saw them play to tens of thousands in the afternoon on the main stage at Lollapalooza and again that night at Schubas. Amazing what a difference a few months can make.
The Tantrums’ story is a good one (and you should definitely acquaint yourself with it). It’s a true feel good story in an industry generally bereft of positivity. Struggling to make ends meet, unhappy writing songs for tv and film and ready to throw in the towel, Michael Fitzpatrick came into posession of an old organ and found his voice.
Touring on a self-released, five song EP, the band built an audience one fan at a time via the internet and their incredible accessability and started to sell out shows. Despite a growing buzz, they remained virtually ignored by major labels afraid to sign a band that doesn’t have a guitarist and as such doesn’t fit into one of their ridiculous categories. Undeterred, they forged ahead on their own dime, toured relentlessly and almost exactly one year ago released their debut album Pickin’ Up the Pieces on Dangerbird Records.
As good as that record is (and steeped in old soul, it’s really good) it can’t hold a candle to the band’s live show.
Fitz & The Tantrums kicked it up a notch and packed one hell of a punch with their seventy five minute set Saturday at Schubas. Live, these songs are faster, grittier and more soulful. Gone is the glossy production that coats the album in a sugary sweetness and present in its place is sweat soaked soul.
Fronting the six piece band, Michael Fitzpatrick is joined by Noelle Scaggs (vocals and tambourine), James King (saxophone and flute), Joseph Karnes (bass), Jeremy Ruzumna (keyboards) and John Wicks (drums). Opening with “Breakin’ the Chains of Love,” the band tore through most of Pickin’ Up the Pieces as they did earlier in the day at Lollapalooza.
Onstage, Noelle Scaggs channels Tina Turner. She’s sexy, never stops moving during the performance and her voice is amazing. In fact, my only complaint about the show is that her vocals weren’t higher in the mix. Seeing her live made me wonder why she isn’t a more integral part on record too. I’d be shocked if that doesn’t change on the next album. Noelle pounds the tambourine with ferocity and as her and Fitz start to dance suggestively with one another (staring with intensity at each other all the while), it’s impossible not to conjure up a mental image of Ike & Tina
Noelle was at her best as she engaged the audience in the “Hey! Woo!” call and response that opens “Dear Mr. President.” Her passionate vocals on this political song evoked Sly and the Family Stone at their best.
Sax turned to flute on “Pickin’ Up the Pieces” as the band continued to up the ante with more tracks like “Don’t Gotta Work it Out” (one of the night’s best as it turned into an all out sing-a-long) from their debut album.
With only one full length album and one EP under their belt, the band worked in some covers to fill out their set. Their take on “Steady, as She Goes” by The Raconteurs was unique as it featured the organ up front in place of Jack White’s guitar. A funky, organ fueled run through the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” saw the crowd keep time as they clapped along. ”THIS is why I love small clubs!” exclaimed Noelle. A new song entitled “Lovesick Man” was right at home with the material from Pickin’ Up the Pieces.
But, there was only one way to end the show and that was with one of the best songs to come out in the last twelve months: “MoneyGrabber.” Fitz wouldn’t tolerate anything less than full audience participation as he encouraged everyone to crouch down while the band built toward the final chorus (reminiscent of the crowd’s reaction to the Isley Brothers classic “Shout!” in the movie Animal House and Fitz humorously called out anyone who didn’t comply). Once the band finally hit that chorus, the entire crowd exploded in unison pogoing up and down as the band jubilantly did the same. ”Today (Lollapalooza) was amazing but TONIGHT has blown the lid off this!” declared Fitz (with the band later tweeting “Chicago If u made it out to Schubas last night…Well u know how it was!”).
Singer/songwriter turned pop star Christina Perri opened up the show and was also impressive. Heading into the show, I was unfamiliar with her so my expectations were pretty low.
It turns out her brother Nick Perri (former lead guitarist in the rock band Shinedown) has worked with Perry Farrell which could begin to explain her spot on the Lolla lineup.
Regardless, Perri (on guitar and keys in addition to solid lead vocals) and her band more than ably ran through songs like “Jar of Hearts” (which cracked the Billboard Hot 100 last summer following appearances on So You Think You Can Dance and Glee). While Perri sat down at the keyboard to describe “Jar of Hearts” as a song about “…strength and standing up for yourself” she categorized “Arms” (the newest single from her May full length debut lovestrong) as a song about being “…batshit crazy.”
Don’t let Perri’s presence on the pop charts scare you away: she’s a talented vocalist and instrumentalist worth taking a look at.