Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience: Fitz and the Tantrums returns for third time | AspenTimes.com

Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience: Fitz and the Tantrums returns for third time

Third time's the charm for Fitz and the Tantrums at the Jazz Aspen Labor Day Experience.

The neo-soul band returns to the music festival Saturday, following an early afternoon set in 2011 and a 2015 evening performance marred by heavy rain, thunderstorms and lightning that threatened a complete evacuation of the festival grounds.

That wet and truncated set of three years ago — opening in a drizzle that turned into a downpour — still provided some memorable moments from these consummate showmen, including a euphoric rendition of "Spark" and the band's inspired cover of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams" with a call-and-response interlude.

Frontman Michael "Fitz" Fitzpatrick, an electric stage presence with a signature skunk stripe of gray hair, threw down a gauntlet for the crowd to get up and move as the clouds gathered: "We don't accept you standing there like a wallflower texting on your cellular devices. It's all about getting down and dirty with us right now."

Since then, the band landed its biggest hit yet with 2016's irresistible, participatory club bumper "HandClap," off Fitz and the Tantrum's self-titled third album. The song, and the record overall, took the band into glossier sonic territory that placed it firmly in mainstream dance pop — inching away from the eccentric organ-based sound that had long defined it.

The band was formed a decade ago with a used $50 church organ as its centerpiece and a mission to make music without a guitar.

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"I'm tired of the guitar as an instrument," Fitzpatrick said before their Aspen debut at Belly Up seven years ago. "In the live setting, it's always there; you always see it. So I wanted a band with no guitar."

The organ, with synthesizers, bass, saxophone and electric pianos layered behind Fitz's off-kilter Jerry Lee Lewis vocal stylings and the soaring support of co-vocalist Noelle Scaggs gave the old soul sound a 21st-century jolt and helped kick off the recent reo-soul revival that took hold with artists like Leon Bridges and Nathaniel Rateliff.

"I love the fact that there's a new soul movement — no DJs, no backing tracks, just old-school musicians who know how to play and put on a show," he said. "People are hungry for authenticity."

Always dapperly dressed and coifed onstage, the mashed-up sound aimed to reimagine the soul tradition.

"We wanted to see if there was something new to say about soul music," Fitzpatrick said. "So it's soul meets Style Council and Talking Heads, with some hip-hop influence in the drums. With an emphasis on pop songwriting — songs you want to sing over and over and can't get them out of your head."

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IF YOU GO …

Who: Fitz & the Tantrums

Where: Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience, Snowmass Town Park

When: Saturday, Sept. 1, 5 p.m.

Tickets: Sold out

More info: The festival will open with Bahamas (3 p.m.), followed by Fitz & the Tantrums (5 p.m.) and Jack Johnson (7:30 p.m.) on the main stage. The Outside Music Lounge will feature two sets by Avenhart (4:15 and 6:30 p.m.) and a Silent Disco (9:30 p.m.); jazzaspensnowmass.org

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