Past meets present at new music hall
Although Thursday marked the third show since the reopening of the venue now known as Brighton Music Hall, the specter of the old Harpers Ferry hung in the air, or at least on the marquee, where the ghost letters of the former name were visible under the new one. But the place was also so new that some of the stall dividers in the bathrooms still had plastic on them.
So what more fitting band to straddle the past and the present than Fitz and the Tantrums? The LA six-piece pulled off the formidable feat of looking backward and forward simultaneously, filtering the elements of ’60s soul through a modern, almost hip-hop-derived production sensibility. What should have been familiar elements came across as delightfully fresh.
With a hank of two-toned hair dangling geometrically across one side of his face, frontman Michael Fitzpatrick was an adept master of ceremonies, knowing and deliberate but entirely capable of letting go with abandon. Second singer Noelle Scaggs was officially on vocal rest due to a bout with laryngitis, but she didn’t let it stop her from shimmying fiercely, with and without her tambourine. When it became too much to bear and she finally took the microphone for “Pickin’ Up the Pieces’’ (where her strained voice worked marvelously with the material), the sold-out crowd went nuts.
But the real engine driving Fitz and the Tantrums was drummer John Wicks. His beats were crisp and supple, whether on the near-psychedelic garage rock of “L.O.V.’’ or on the slow, rocksteady-like “Rich Girls.’’ Wicks subtly guided “News 4 You’’ from low-key but ominous verses to a chorus that shook out all the song’s pent-up energy before a chaotic break freakout that stopped dead at every eighth beat before resuming. It was sharp and thrilling, soulful and hip all at once.
Homegrown openers Jordan Valentine & the Sunday Saints played more traditional throwback soul along the lines of early-’70s Stax when it was right on the verge of funk. Valentine was an endearing (and sometimes endearingly dorky) soul shouter with a fire inside, and her band was wickedly tight.
Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org