Festival Review + Photos: Fitz and the Tantrums at Rock The Green (Milwaukee)

Michael "Fitz" Fitzpatrick sings "L.O.V." for the crowd at Rock the Green.
Annie: I didn't even need to make my way to the stage, I could hear the infectious chorus of "Don't Gotta Work it Out" from Lincoln Memorial Drive. It takes a lot to wake me up before noon on a Sunday, but Fitz and the Tantrums playing in my very own hometown was a special occasion. I ran inside Rock the Green's makeshift fair grounds as the telling bass notes started "Winds of Change," and there was Michael "Fitz" Fitzpatrick center stage, belting it out for all of Milwaukee to hear.

Fitz and the Tantrums (Los Angeles)
September 18th, 2011
Veteran’s Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Annie: I didn’t even need to make my way to the stage, I could hear the infectious chorus of “Don’t Gotta Work it Out” from Lincoln Memorial Drive. It takes a lot to wake me up before noon on a Sunday, but Fitz and the Tantrums playing in my very own hometown was a special occasion. I ran inside Rock the Green‘s makeshift fair grounds as the telling bass notes started “Winds of Change,” and there was Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick center stage, belting it out for all of Milwaukee to hear.

 For the better part of the last year, The Tantrums have had me completely spellbound with their undeniably catchy brand of music. Though their style is heavily soul-based, their debut LP, Pickin’ Up The Pieces, is full of allusions to other genres, including funk, motown, R&B, and what sound like guitar riffs they repurposed off The Doors (to great success, I have to add).

The result of these efforts was plain as day in the overcast Milwaukee afternoon: Fitz and the Tantrums have hit upon some of the catchiest dance hall jams I’ve heard in recent years. But the greatest part about that? They aren’t content to let their songs do all the work onstage. There was the proof in their front-man, waving his arms at the mic to Jeremy Ruzumna’s irresistible chords on the keyboard, looking like a cross between Gumby and someone really, really cool.

While Fitz provides the swagger, the real force of nature behind The Tantrums is Noelle Scaggs, whose stage presence proves that she is more than enough woman to balance out her five male bandmates. When she wasn’t busy crooning at the mic stand, her “effortlessly cool” dance moves never lost speed — if anything, they were liveliest during the final song, the ground-shaking “Moneygrabber.” Scaggs, in the style of a true soul diva, kept it intimate with the audience, and wasn’t afraid to call out the wallflowers who weren’t dancing to get the whole crowd involved.

Noelle Scaggs points out an audience member who isn’t dancing.

The set list was well-stocked with old songs, as well as the new single “Wake Up”; a tale of startling self-discovery that shines the spotlight on saxophonist James King at the chorus. However, my favorite song of the afternoon was undoubtably The Tantrums’ cover of Eurythmics‘ “Sweet Dreams.” A fresh take on the thoroughly 80’s single, the band added a call-and-response with the audience at the bridge. (It may have been lost on the people who came for The Fray, but we loved it.)

Finally able to cross “see Fitz and the Tantrums” off my concert bucket list, I have no cause for complaint. We came, we danced, we drank beer in the middle of the day; we wanted for nothing. And while I have yet to ask Noelle if she can teach me her Tina Turner-dancing ways… that’s what “next time” is for.

Fitz claps it out to “Dear Mr. President.”

[youtube url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFpoyDjUiLA”]

John: Regrets are meant to be corrected. Learn from your mistakes, they say. You missed your niece’s birthday? That’s fine. There’ll be another one a year from then. Just don’t miss that one and you’re golden. (Note to people: I have a nephew and I was there!) Less acceptable? Missing Fitz and the Tantrums in Madison, then missing Fitz and the Tantrums at Rock The Green in Milwaukee this past weekend. Un. Accept. Able.

Thus imagine the panic when, from a distance, “Don’t Got To Work It Out” began past the tree line taunting away to make a daunting jump through woods. Well, not so much, but after “Breakin’ the Chains of Love” and “Winds of Change” I did arrive on the grounds of Veteran’s Park to make good on a self-imposed goal. Rock the Green inaugurated their first year as a festival in Milwaukee, which is needed to fill in the pre- and post-Summerfest gaps. For the first year, it had a strong lineup although the set times were bizarre. Michelle Branch and Ben Folds sandwiched Fitz, and they came on at 1:30 PM. Even weirder, the VIP area. A tiered system fenced off the immediate front of the stage, leaving empty space between the crowd at the front and those behind. I’d imagine if I was a performer, I’d rather it be mixed with a VIP area off to the side or some mix of the two so those fans who knew every word could help maintain the energy. However…

When moving up for the Tantrums, no extra energy would ever be needed. They were the turbines that could have powered the entire green festival given their stage presence. Lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick, however he does it, manages to be omnipresent with the band and the crowd. He read the audience, tweaking and sending out interjections and encouragement before it may have been needed. A rare element. Noelle matches that presence with tambourine in hand, enthusiastically singing support not only for the rest of the band, but the audience as well. It’s impressive to see the two in action, and later realize that it’s before 2 PM and they should be one of the later acts or headliners as they tore into “Dear Mr. President.” Live, Fitz and the Tantrums are more robust and vibrant than imagined.

“Wake Up” followed with its staccato keys and sax accompanying the dual vocals. Punchy, it rose up only to drop back into an addictive, encouraging chorus. What was most memorable was a stellar cover of the Eurythmics‘ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”. With a swanky bass solo laced over touches of funk, the festival crowd ate it up. I remarked later on that covers are so under-appreciated when done right, and they reconstructed a classic very well. The song itself is a highlight, but the show stealer were the comments; “This is my favorite part, because we like to slow it down for all the sexy people.” Or Michael encouraging the crowd to sing along, “Keep your head up!” “Movin’ on!” with a call and response.

Noelle Scaggs shakes her tambourine to “L.O.V.”
Fitz gets the crowd clapping for “Sweet Dreams.”

Them saying that “we always get so much energy from Milwaukee” could have been reversed in either way as “Moneygrabber” closed the night. The band’s breakthrough single tore up to the giant octopus kites flying above. Possible to etch deeper in someone’s memory than the video or recording? They achieved it with Fitzpatrick and the group dipping the song back in the middle to encourage everyone, on penalty of getting called out (“Girl with the red scarf, I was gunnin’ for you.”) until everyone, VIP and general admission, were down on the grounds for the end of their show.

So regrets…got any? Not anymore. The only way I’d feel a resurgence is if I failed catching their next show within driving distance. I see many a show, but rarely do I see one with this much passion.

Scaggs’ feet never stopped moving throughout the show.
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