NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

June 5, 2014

Pushing the limits

Rockers Fitz and The Tantrums bring tour to Hampton Beach

By Alan Sculley
Correspondent

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When Fitz and The Tantrums arrive at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom on Sunday, chances are the six band members won’t be caught off guard the way they were in August 2010, following the release of their debut album, “Pickin’ Up the Pieces.”

“Things kind of accelerated for us so fast at the beginning that we literally didn’t even have enough material to play a headline show,” singer and keyboardist Mike “Fitz” Fitzpatrick said in a recent phone interview. “So we had to write a few more songs, get creative with some unique covers. It was definitely all-hands-on-deck to get it done.”

What’s providing comfort for the band now is the presence of a recently released second album, “More Than Just a Dream,” which changes the game when it comes to the live show.

“I think we’re all very excited to showcase these new songs from the new record and have the real body of work that we can change up our set from night to night,” Fitzpatrick said.

The new songs figure to do nothing but enhance the Fitz and The Tantrums live show. That’s because the band went into “More Than Just a Dream” wanting to create an album that reflected the energy and excitement of the group’s live shows.

The band’s live chemistry has been apparent from the day that members first played together, according to Fitzpatrick.

He began putting together the band in 2008, after he wrote the song “Breakin’ the Chains of Love” on a newly purchased electric organ.

His first recruit was his college friend, saxophonist James King, who recommended powerhouse female singer Noelle Scaggs and drummer John Wicks. The drummer knew the two other musicians who completed the lineup: bassist Joseph Karnes and keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna.

“We had one rehearsal, and the chemistry was there from the first performance of the first song,” Fitzgerald said. “I left the rehearsal space and went and booked us a show because I could tell (we clicked).”

The rocking soul sound that Fitz and The Tantrums created on “Pickin’ Up the Pieces” connected with audiences. While not a huge hit on the charts, the single “MoneyGrabber” did reasonably well on the radio, going top 30 on “Billboard” magazine’s hot rock and adult pop charts.

With “More Than Just a Dream,” the group not only wanted to better capture its live energy (extensive touring behind “Pickin’ Up the Pieces” was also a major factor in building the band’s fan base), Fitzpatrick said they also wanted to push their sound further than on the debut album.

“We knew that we wanted to make a bold record,” he said. “It felt like if we had just gone and made ‘Picking Up the Pieces Part 2,’ it would have been a very safe thing and then people would have chastised us for just making the same record again.”

To help achieve that goal, Fitzpatrick said the band was determined not to set any limits on the kind of songs they could create.

“There was a rule that nobody was allowed to say, ‘That doesn’t sound like us,’ ‘We can’t do that,’” Fitzpatrick said. “Everything was on the table, and we literally wrote like 35 to 40 songs in a month and a half, two months, to let ourselves cross the spectrum between very safe songs to in the middle to super out-there. Then what happened was these 12 songs just sort of floated to the surface and showed themselves to be this cohesive theme, sonically, spiritually, all of it was just the right balance between everything we wanted to say on this record.”

The songs on “More Than Just a Dream” range from the percolating soul-pop of “Out of my League” (a single that recently topped the “Billboard” alternative rock chart) to the bubblegum soul of the bouncy “The Walker” (a whistled melody is a focus of this second No. 1 alternative rock single).

The group’s knack for buoyant pop melodies is also apparent on songs like “Spark,” “Break the Walls” and “Fools Gold” (which sounds like a lost Hall & Oates hit, thanks in part to Fitzpatrick’s voice, which resembles that of Daryl Hall). Meanwhile, the band builds in some nice changes of pace with the mid-tempo “6am” and “Keepin Our Eyes Out,” which moves smoothly between perky piano melody and epic pop sections.

“I couldn’t be more happy or proud of the boldness, the chances,” Fitzpatrick said of “More Than Just a Dream.” “They kept me up at night, the risks we were taking, but that let me know that we were challenging ourselves as artists. That was maybe one of the most important things to me.”

IF YOU GO

What: Fitz and The Tantrums with Sleeper Agent and Madi Diaz

When: Sunday at 8 p.m.

Where: Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, 169 Ocean Blvd., Hampton Beach, N.H.

How much: $19.75 in advance, $25 on the day of the show

More information: 603-929-4100 or www.casinoballroom.com