"How many of you saw us at LouFest?" singer and front man Michael Fitzpatrick asked through a haze of colored lights. The response was massive, with cheers across both the floor and balcony. This band definitely left an impression during last year's outdoor festival.
Looking all the way back to 2011, Fitz & the Tantrums also played a fully booked St. Louis show, but at a much smaller venue: the Duck Room. With the success of appearances across the country, a breakout song and an exponentially growing fan base, this act was going to need a bigger boat.
Yet a greater crowd at the Pageant didn't mean a more complicated set. The streamlined, six-member ensemble relied on permanent players Joseph Karnes on bass, John Wicks on drums and Jeremy Ruzumna on keys. At the front of the stage was James King, a musical Swiss Army knife who switched between a range of saxophones, as well as a flute, keyboard and (gasp) guitar, an instrument the group has notably avoided in the past.
Backup vocalist and tambourine player Noelle Skaggs worked the stage with vigor and stamina that rivaled those inflatable tube men you see at used car dealerships. Fitzpatrick was also in constant motion, and he and Skaggs kept energy high as they paced the stage the entire show to rally fans on the floor. Fists were pumped. Hands were waved. Booties were shaken.
Fitz & the Tantrums powered through a 75-minute set of what has been called indie pop and neo soul. Fans heard established hits and newer material from the group's 2013 album that included the title track "More Than Just a Dream," as well as songs "Break the Walls" and "Spark."
For the encore, the band demonstrated its evolution starting out with the monster hit "Moneygrabber," which is a fairly straightforward '70s-influenced soul number that in the past couple of years has found its way into shops and car radios around the world. The song that followed was "The Walker," which turns up the bubblegum dial with a whistled melody and synth-heavy chorus. It's the indie-pop part of the equation to "Moneygrabber"'s neo-soul portion. What we have are two very different songs, and they're both catchier than a baseball glove filled with pine tar.
The lone cover of the night was a literal yet up-tempo rendition of the Eurythmic's "Sweet Dreams," a song that fit in well with the new-wave direction that Fitz & the Tantrums has developed in its updated material. There is still plenty of influence, however, from the retro soul sounds characteristic of Motown and Stax recordings that the group's music has borrowed from since it formed in 2008. As the band moves into the future and establishes a more unique sound, it continues to earn recognition from all over, even some unexpected sources.
"Tonight we were an answer on 'Jeopardy'!" Fitzpatrick told the crowd followed by a faint applause from the few quiz-show fans in the audience. I was one of those people. Indeed, "What are the Tantrums" was an $800 question for the "Backing Bands" category on that day's episode of the College Championship. Once Alex Trebek mentions your band and you’ve sold out the Pageant (with openers Unlikely Candidates), you’ve got more than enough fuel to power your rocket of success.