Photo by Leah Armer, Layout Editor
If you took the time to wander the streets of Isla Vista this past Halloween weekend, you no doubt noticed the alarming absence of people. The large group of cops patrolling the largely empty Del Playa Drive, coupled with the scattered arrangement of fences surrounding some of the properties, made the scene look more like a ramshackle, East-Berlin-esque police state than the West Coast’s biggest party. To say the least, it was the quietest Halloween in recent history — that is, unless you were busy having your eardrums melted off by AS Program Board’s thundering speaker-stacks during their two-night Delirium concert series at the Thunderdome.
On the night of Fri., Oct. 30, soulful indie pop group Fitz and the Tantrums headlined the Delirium concert event. Hailing from nearby Los Angeles, the band sounds like a reincarnated Hall & Oates with soul sensibilities, and an undeniably twenty-first century pop twist. Unlike most rock and roll bands, their lineup has stayed the same for the first seven years of its existence, consisting of singers Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs, bassist Joe Karnes, saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist James King, keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna and drummer John Wicks.
Before Fitz and the Tantrums came on, LA-based singer-songwriter Allie X performed her synth-heavy electro pop to the gathered masses. While not very well known in the U.S., Allie X, short for Alexandra Hughes, nonetheless achieved commercial success in her native Canada this fall when her single “Catch” reached #3 on the country’s Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Her set consisted of bland, radio-ready tunes with a vague artistic consciousness. Almost all the instrumentation consisted of pre-recorded dance floor-savvy production, except for some onstage keyboard loops and a guitar player added for extra bombast. However, the guitar parts were simplistic and easily overpowered by the synths in volume, contributing little to the overall sound except for a few standout, syncopated riffs. Allie’s singing was operatic and provocative at times, especially when she was belting out lines like “I’m your bitch, you’re my bitch, hoo hoo!” from her appropriately titled single, “Bitch.”
After Allie X’s set came the main attraction: Fitz and the Tantrums. Their songs were also made for the dance floor, but in a different sense than their opener’s. Tunes from their newest album, More Than Just a Dream, are on-the-button, post-“Pumped Up Kicks” danceable indie rock — a significant departure from their debut album, Pickin’ Up the Pieces, which wouldn’t sound out of place in a smoke-filled, soul music bar. Their Thunderdome set mixed together songs from both albums, and featured stirring performances from the ever-soulful Scaggs and the sax-wielding King (who is also responsible for the sax solo at the end of M83’s “Midnight City”).
Fitz and the Tantrums are unique in the broad world of indie rock, because they are a rock and roll band that makes little use of the electric guitar. Instead, they a construct a driving Wall of Sound through vocal harmonies, organs, synths and saxophone, giving their music a rich, classic-sounding sheen. In combination with their energetic stage presence, it made for a hell of a show.
Some highlights included a triumphant and passionate cover of Annie Lennox’s classic pop song, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These),” with the night’s first glimpse into Ruzumna’s smooth organ chops, and “Pickin’ Up the Pieces,” which featured a carefree synth riff periodically giving way to deep, pleading vocals. “Don’t Gotta Work it Out,” one of their most bombastic and impassioned songs to date, came off just as powerfully as it did on the album, ending with a sweetly melodic sax solo to carry the tune’s energy to the rest of the setlist.
Fitz and the Tantrums’ set was an inspired performance from one of the hardest working bands in show business, and served as an excellent introduction to the legendary Snoop Dogg’s performance the following night.