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Fitz And The Tantrums At Central Park Summer Stage, Saturday, June 25th, 2011

 At Summerstage, Saturday afternoon, headliner Lee Fields performed a soulful,, downbeat cover of the Supreme's "My World Is Empty Without You". Hardly "The Happening" in the first place, for Lee soul is pain and the cover proved it. Meanwhile, an hour earlier Fitz And The Tantrums covered the Eurthymics "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)" and it was maybe the second most exciting moment in a thrilling, fun, lively, joyful, life is fun set AND HERE'S THE KICKER, "Sweet Dreams" has always been a spooky song (Marilyn Manson once covered it), "everybody's looking for something" is the punch line and the band made it into a full on singalong with a packed out Mainstage (so busy they stopped letting people in at one point) at full throat. Here's the moral: what the Tantrums did to "Sweet Dreams" is what they do to everything they touch. They make it a party.

Fitz and the Tantrums are a long time fave of rock nyc. Both Alyson Camus and Woody Fuller have written about the band extensively (the link above is Aly's interview). Me? I have remained completely unconvinced. On record, they are not nearly hard enough; the songs while pretty good aren't in the same planet as great. Certainly, inspirations like Average White Band and Hall And Oates have nothing to worry about. Fitz And The Tantrum are missing a soul singer and they are missing the songs, to break free.

On record.

On stage there is no waiting for the set to kick in. From the first song to the last, Fitz And The Tantrums are dynamos of power r&b -a child of Stax, Motown, Philly soul: as Mike says, "We like to get down… and when we say down we mean dooooown." There is no guitar in the band and that's strange except both the saxophonist James King and the keyboard player Jeremy Ruzumna hold  the melody -the weakest part of the band is the melody so it is tricky, and the drummer John Wicks and bass player John Karmes the beat of which there is plenty. As cohesive a dance unit as you can imagine, these guys are disco monsters of the first orders. James King is especially good on a flute solo so surprising and fresh in a Stax rewrite.

Front and center is MC Noelle Scaggs and leader Mike Fitz. Noelle Scaggs is a beautiful young lady, a great mover, a great sweat-er, and a galvanizing set up person able to work the crowd by questioning whether we are sexy enough (WE ARE!). She shakes it like a go go dancer and has a strong voice more prevalent than on the album and EPs. Noelle is Mike's foil and Mike? Mike is tall, rail thin,with straight hair and a fringe dyed gray. Dressed in a  black suit over a tee shirt, he is wet from sweat,: a eagerness at odds with his Euro-Trash ambiance. and when Noelle tells him to take off his jacket, refuses. This is what he does, he seems to be claiming.

These two make a beguiling couple, they move, they dance, they get danced, they work the crowd over: demanding and getting as much as they put in. Every song is vastly better then the recorded version, especially a call and response "Rich Girls" that makes you wonder what the hell they were thinking of when they recorded a  perfunctory (at the most) version on Pickin' Up the Pieces.

The set has no momentum, it is not building, from the begining to the end it is enthralling, exciting and engaging. From a Keep your head up, New York" call and response to a terrific "Moneygrabber" from a slow dance in the middle of the stage to a stomping, sizzling, swinging dancearama, from advise to the lovelorn to dire warnings to those who won't get down, the band is always, always on. They're as great as prime Shinobi Ninja.

But for all of that they aren't where they need to be.

1. They need a coupla killer cuts. Even the best songs here aren't memorable enough -Mike Fitz  and Chris Seefried needs to write a brace of better songs. Not much better, it's a question of inches.

2. Chris Seefriend is a talented fellow but the wrong producer. They need a dance producer. You would have thought the folks at daytrotter would've done the trick but they didn't. A REDONE or Guetta would be too busy; I'm thinking Mark Ronson. Or maybe really old school, Niles Rodgers. Somebody who can get them to replicate the energy of the live act on record, maybe sharpen the songwriting a bit.

3. And nothing else. That's all they need.

After the set, Mike and other members of the band are talking and taking pix in the Summerstage tee-shirt and memorabilia area, I go out for 45 minutes between sets, return, and they are still there.

Fitz and the Tantrums made themselves a lot of fans Saturday, and will make themselves many more with an attitude like that..

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