Fitz and the Tantrums performed decidedly old music for a predominantly young audience Saturday night at the KC Live stage in the Power & Light District. Several thousand people, most of whom were in their 20s, danced and sang along to a band that revives the soulful sounds released by the Motown record label in the 1960s.
One of the most appealing acts to emerge during the Obama administration, the Los Angeles-based sextet have doggedly toured in support of two studio albums. Much like Hall & Oates did in the ’70s and ’80s, Fitz and the Tantrums revamp classic R&B for a contemporary pop audience. Several of the 17 songs on Saturday’s set list were barely disguised remakes of Martha & the Vandellas hits such as “Heatwave,” “Dancing in the Street” and “Nowhere to Run.”
What the band lacks in originality is made up for by its considerable charisma. The energetic vocalists Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs don’t possess the distinctive talent of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, but their terrific chemistry puts their fans into motion. They led the compliant audience in an array of dance moves and interactive routines throughout their 80-minute performance. Fitz and the Tantrums benefit from their outlier status. Young listeners accustomed to indie-rock and hip-hop simply aren’t familiar with the core elements of vintage R&B. Many fans reacted to a brief saxophone solo on “Breakin’ the Chains of Love” as if it were the first time they had seen anyone play the instrument.
Renditions of the band’s biggest hits — the whistle-driven “The Walker,” the throwback funk of “MoneyGrabber“ and the jaunty “Out of My League” — were greeted ecstatically. The only song that failed to connect with the audience had more to do with the limitations of the venue than with the strength of the composition. The massive courtyard in the Power & Light District may be one of Kansas City’s prime public squares, but it’s a problematic concert venue. Without a team of sensitive sound technicians and the cooperation of the surrounding businesses, the space can resemble an enormous, neon-festooned echo chamber. “Last Raindrop,” the lone ballad attempted by Fitz and the Tantrums, was marred by the prerecorded music blaring from several establishments. The opening band, Night Terrors of 1927, was occasionally drowned out by an indifferent audience and ambient noise. Even so, few fans can complain about getting their money’s worth. Entry to the high-voltage concert was only $5.
Get Away; Don’t Gotta Work It Out; Break the Walls; Breakin’ the Chains of Love; Keepin’ Our Eyes Out; Spark; MerryGoRound; Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This); House on Fire; Fools Gold; Out of My League; Last Raindrop; 6am; Tell Me What Ya Here For; L.O.V.; MoneyGrabber; The Walker