Fitz & the Tantrums House of Blues Bronze Peacock Room April 18, 2011
Soul music is about power, yoking that gospel id to the pursuit of more worldly affairs, but it's also about subtlety. Grunt all you want, but smooth and steady wins the race (and wins over the ladies).
Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye could have told you that; Smokey Robinson, Daryl Hall and John Legend still can. Fitz & the Tantrums probably can't. Not yet.
The latest contestants in the retro-soul derby that also includes Eli "Paperboy" Reed, Mayer Hawthorne and this week's Billboard No. 1, Adele, the L.A.-based five-piece sandblasted a sold-out Bronze Peacock Room for about an hour Monday night, spewing Motown, Sly & the Family Stone and acid jazz like an uncapped deepwater oil rig.
Until the very end, It was all force and no finesse, dynamic with no dynamics. It was also loud as shit, the first show Aftermath can remember in a while that left our eardrums actually hurting.
It took 35 minutes before the band even thought about slowing it down, front man Michael Fitzpatrick requesting some "wet reverb" for "Tighter," a Bobby Blue Bland-ish song that was only a ballad compared to the fatback Bar-Kays funk of "Dear Mr. President" that preceded it.
Hair swooped over one side of his head like an early-'90s skater, Fitzpatrick gets by on his party-boy personality and boundless energy more than any great vocal skills. There was a lot of Springsteen in "Pickin' Up the Pieces" - lest we forget, The Boss is not what anyone would consider a crooner, and a big Motown fan in his own right.
Fitzpatrick's onstage foil, Noelle Scaggs, matched his kinetic output with Ike-and-Tina choreography, hip-hop call-and-response chanting and full-throated gospel vocals that made "6 a.m." a true tour de force.
The rest of the Tantrums laid it on just as thick - the late-Beatles/Phil Spectorian organ smear of "Winds of Change" and Jimmy Smith flurry of "News 4 U," Funk Brothers horn blasts of "Breakin' the Chains" and acrobatic bass lines of "Wake Up" and "Rich Girls" creating a steamroller of sound that bounced off the Bronze Peacock walls like a kid with the keys to the Ritalin cabinet.
Aftermath had been thoroughly bulldozed by the time the Tantrums left the stage after "News," so we decided to forsake the encore until we could have sworn we heard Archie Bell & the Drells "Tighten Up" halfway down the escalator. It was over before we made it back upstairs, but we'll give them the benefit of the doubt; that song is almost impossible to mistake, and for the band's first time in Houston, it's nice to see they did their homework.
We stuck around out front for the cover of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams," more blasting sax, funhouse keys and crashing drums, commandeered by Skaggs' husky vocals and - finally - some actual intra-song dynamic shifts. So they do know how to bring it down and build it back up after all.
And that was enough. Hold your head up; movin' on.
Personal Bias: I recently returned from a pilgrimage to one of the cradles of soul, Stax Records in Memphis. Watching the guitarless Tantrums kept making me wonder what Steve Cropper would think.
The Crowd: First- and second-generation yuppies.
Overheard In the Crowd: Nothing. It was too fucking loud.
Random Notebook Dump: Maybe Fitz & Co. should head down South to make a record along the Staples Singers vibe of "Dear Mr. President."
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