Category Archives: Concerts

CONCERT: Fitz & The Tantrums (Acoustic), 10/22/13 – Worcester, MA

A "League" of their own.

No tantrums here, just some good ol’ music.

Hailing from Los Angeles, soulful sextet Fitz & The Tantrums has been around for nearly five years now, but are still gaining new fans on a regular basis. From their humble beginnings playing small clubs in California to a big fall tour this year around the nation with the electro-pop duo Capital Cities, the group is making their mark on popular music with an authentic old school vibe that has shone through all aspects of the band, from their material to their look. Their biggest hit to date on my chart, “MoneyGrabber”, spent a week at the top back in 2011, a song I initially didn’t like but slowly grew into over time. That was from their first LP, 2010’s Pickin’ Up The Pieces. However, with a new album making waves on the Billboard 200 and a few songs over the radio, the five men and one woman that comprise the band are more popular than ever, having played around with their sound a bit on their most recent collection to skew in a new wave direction. However, it also remains true to their R&B roots.

Playing a short set on the fourth floor at Club Maxine’s in downtown Worcester, the band was split in half as what seems to be case with most of their radio gigs, with lead vocalist (and new father!) Michael Fitzpatrick, tambourine and vocalist Noelle Scaggs and bassist Joseph Karnes at the exclusive event with a trio of songs from their latest studio album, More Than Just A Dream, available on Elektra/Atlantic Records. With a retro-themed room at the venue and a retro-sounding band to boot, you couldn’t have asked for a better fit. Of course, the band took some pictures beforehand with several fans and were courteous about it before taking to the floor and getting down to business after a nice introduction.

First off was “The Walker”, which was recently announced as the second Alternative and AAA single from the record. It’s also received a few television placements in the last few weeks. Built around some steady whistling, the more bare arrangement still gave off as much as fun as the studio cut, with Fitzpatrick taking on a different melody. I was obviously jealous that I can’t whistle. “Walker” isn’t the only current release that’s trying to bring back that trend on the Alternative survey, but in my opinion, it’s the strongest of the bunch. (Feel free to disagree.) Next up was “Fools Gold”, another great track from the effort and very much a contender for a single down the line. I almost didn’t recognize as a stripped down piece, but it was by far the best performance of the three, with Fitzpatrick sounding more energetic vocally and Karnes plugging away at his guitar.

“Gold” was followed by a steady stream of questions from both audience members and on-air personalities – a bevy of musical influences (answers included hip-hop, soul, even a little Nirvana and Rush for Scaggs), playing with musical legend Daryl Hall on the web series Live At Daryl’s House (Fitzpatrick noted that Hall’s mother told him that he sounded like Hall, to which he responded, “Can I get a witness?”) and all the talk shows they’ve been on lately (Conan, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, etc.) Finally, they dug into “Out Of My League”, the song that recently became their first #1 song on the Alternative chart and biggest over all single of their career. We got some clapping involved, a little musical direction by Scaggs leading the crowd and the people were enjoying themselves. “League” spent five weeks at #2 on my chart back in April and May, so I’ve obviously been enjoying the song for some time, and they made sure to bring the flavor even in an acoustic setting. I’m sure it would rock more if I ever saw the full six-piece band live on stage.

The band and their label rep were in a rush to drive down to Providence for a gig after the end of this, so I wasn’t able to chat with the act or get any sort of photograph with them, but that sort of thing happens sometimes. I’m still content that I managed to see them if only for a short bit. Their smooth jams are going to continue on for a long while to come. Let’s just hope they get the same kind of embrace come the next era, especially if it’s in the same league as their latest.

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CONCERT: Olly Murs (Acoustic), 9/11/13 – Worcester, MA

Right picture right time.

Right picture right time.

He took the tube by storm on The X Factor in the United Kingdom in 2009, and he even though he finished as a runner-up, he’s clearly a winner to a lot of people. 29-year-old Olly Murs is now back to promoting his Right Place Right Time album here in the U.S. after a successful summer tour with Robbie Williams in Europe. Although Murs isn’t a household name here at the moment, he and his label, Syco/Columbia, are doing their best to keep his name out there as he’s transitioning between singles and eras in different countries, with a new album in the works for next summer. Nevertheless, this was his time to shine for a small radio event in central Massachusetts and what a buzz it was.

First of all, I have to give props to his two backing singers, Darren and John, who were so on point during the sound check when I was checking people in that I was blown away. Their sound reminds me a lot of an early 90’s flavor a la P.M. Dawn or Seal. They have something special, and that two-part harmony was killer. I think they’ll eventually make it on their own, but they certainly have a good opportunity at the moment.

As expected, the gals (kids, were you cutting class?) were all excited for the show, coming up one by one to ask if they could take pictures, get signatures, etc. They love their boy, what can I say? After peeking through a side curtain about a half-dozen times, there he was, Olly Murs, the troublemaker himself on stage. He thanked everybody for coming out, noted that he was still getting over a little jet lag, but was happy to be back in America to play a few shows. I believe this was his first stop following the flight. Appropriately, he began with “Troublemaker”, his biggest hit to date so far here in the States. I have to admit, I think it sounded better in acoustic setting than on the record, but he sounds vocally exactly like he does on the record. That’s a good problem, folks. Instantly impressed, I was. He’s quite the charmer and his energy filled up the small room we were in, and as you might expect, everyone was singing along. Everything just jived together.

Between songs, Murs talked about his wearing of hats, noting that the grey fedora he had on was bought at a vintage shop in New York City and it was love at first sight. A question was then asked about how he loses his English accent when he sings, and mentioned a few other musicians who experience the same thing. He then broke out onto a few bars of “Troublemaker” with his thicker speaking accent, which got a few laughs from the crowd and a “Yeah, that doesn’t feel the same, does it?” out of him. At this point, a young girl who couldn’t have been more than 10 asked him to marry her, to which he replied that there might be some “legal complications”. However, she did manage to sneak a peck out of him at the end and an autograph on her red Murs t-shirt. Lucky, lucky.

Up next was “Heart Skips A Beat”, the song that was released as his debut single here last year. It went to #1 in the U.K. a year prior in the fall of 2011 as the leadoff single from his second album. Unfortunately, it didn’t so well on this side of the pond and a remix with Chiddy Bang and two different music videos for the U.S. didn’t help the matter, but it still gave Murs a bit of radio time as he opened for boy band One Direction. This was the most interactive song of the afternoon, as Murs played off the crowd’s call-and-response “oh-oh” chants and swayed a bit around the stage. Again, solid vocal and presence, even if it wasn’t the most familiar song of the event.

At this point, Murs talked about his road to a third audition at The X Factor. Coming from the small town of Witham, he said that he wasn’t enjoying his job at a call center. So, after two failed attempts at auditions for the show in 2007 and 2008, he gave it one last go in 2009, competing in the Over 25s category rather than with the Boys as was the case the two prior times. It proved to be the right choice, as Murs came in second despite some fierce competition. Onto another tune it was, which he mentioned was inspired by his parents’ record collection with a bit of a modern twist.

As you can probably guess from that description, the last song of the afternoon was “Dance With Me Tonight”, which is finally being promoted to the hot adult contemporary format here in the States. I originally heard the remix which was serviced of “Tonight” back in June, which was then on target for an August radio date, only to be pulled until later this month. Missed opportunity? Perhaps. I always thought that the song would sound good in a medley with “Quarter To Three” by Gary “U.S.” Bonds and “Runaround Sue” by Dion, which both capture that same essence of the early 60’s swing sound. This was Murs at his best, having fun and gyrating all over the place like he was Elvis Presley. He’s got a few moves, and of course, the voice to boot. Plus, Darren and John got into the act too with some syncopated hip flips, which was cute. In fact, we were all clapping along and shaking it a bit, to be honest. How could you not? Just like “Three” or “Sue”, there’s no way you could just sit down to a jump jive an’ jam like that. Mission accomplished.

Unlike some of the other shows I’ve worked, because of the crowd, I wasn’t really able to chat it up with he or his team and, inevitably, push the fact that there was meant to be a write-up coming, which you’ve now read! So, if you’re out there, I hope I accurately captured what went on! He’s a great guy with a lot of appeal and, most importantly, he loves what he’s doing now. You have to root for him and I think he’ll be around for some time, at least in his native country. The U.S. market is so different that it’s hard to tell at this point whether Murs will have any staying power in the States in terms of the casual radio listener or retail buyer, although he has the fan base to back him up. Whatever the case, he’s making his case on this latest radio tour of his, ending with an appearance on CBS’s The Talk on September 27. So, keep talking him up until then — to the point where he’s “stuck in [your] brain.” I think this will be for me.

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CONCERT: Passenger (Acoustic), 8/21/13 – Worcester, MA

Ready, set, "Go".

Ready, set, “Go”.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… okay, make that March and it was right here at my computer. March 21, in fact. It was then that I started writing a post about a performer named Passenger who I had heard a little about, especially because he was doing so well in Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe. I also really liked his song. So, I wrote for a little bit and finished it and this piece went up just after Midnight on March 22. I didn’t think much after that because I was off to bed and hoping for maybe a few hits on it by the time I woke up.

Around 11:30 the next morning, I noticed two things that were peculiar. Firstly, my link had been tweeted out by someone named Terry McBride and this was awesome in itself even though I wasn’t sure who he was. Then, I found that pulsing orange “You’ve got a new comment” button going off with a response from somebody named Bob Divney, asking if he could use my post in an advertisement. I was confused, but a few Google searches later, it was clear that he was part of The Artist Cooperative, a small agency used for radio promotion and marketing that worked with Nettwerk Records, Passenger‘s label, which McBride is the CEO of, and that’s when a like turned into a love, which turned into some freebies from TAC, which turned into a job interview with Nettwerk Records, which turned into a #1 song on my chart for 12 weeks and now a top 5 followup single. That’s just the short version – I’m not sure you want the long one.

The point of all this is that “Will Passenger “Go” On To The U.S.?” can now be answered with a definitive “yes” – he’s sitting in the top 20 on Hot AC radio and in the top 30 of iTunes and there’s still room for much growth at digital retailers and on AAA and CHR radio. I’d like to think that maybe my article helped out when it was sent on a promotional email, even if it was in the smallest way; it was something that hopefully made up somebody’s mind about adding the song or not. Now, five months to the day that I started with that idea, I finally got the chance to see him perform live at the radio station I work at, and trust me, I was on cloud nine.

After setting up at my weekly event at a dive bar (but not in a West End town), I was back at the station smelling like I just came from the beach. Gross. After a quick wash-up, I found myself in a conversation with Andrew Govatsos, another Cooperative member, and I casually slipped in the whole blog post, which he seemed impressed with. Who wouldn’t? I think I said something to effect of “I’m so thrilled this is all happening,” to which he responded, “You wanna meet him? He’s in there.” All I could say was, “Oh my god, yeah!” There he was, red plaid shirt and blue jean shorts, sitting in one of our studios and extending his hand with a “Hi, I’m Mike, what’s your name?” and I was literally struggling for words. I was so not prepared for this moment. I managed a “So great to meet you! How was the gig in Boston?” to which he replied positively, then we took the picture you see above, and I was out of there for fear that I was bothering him. Also, there might have been an overdramatic faint on the music director’s office floor. Luckily, it wasn’t real but someone was star struck.

Fast forward through the in-between time of waiting for people to show up and getting them settled upstairs. Let’s begin the show! Like most acoustic loft performances, this was a shortened set and started off with “Patient Love”, an album track from All The Little Lights, which saw him plugging away his guitar and sounding just like the record. Then, he said, “this is a new song, tell me what you think,” before going into the line “Like the legend of the Phoenix”, which clicked with me automatically. It’s “Get Lucky”, the Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams song. He sure is clever, kids. This is coming from the same guy who was involved in a medley of “No Diggity” and “Thrift Shop” with Ed Sheeran, so he has some tricks up his sleeve. Good ones too. This seamlessly blended into “Let Her Go”, which was the cue for everyone to take out their cameras because once the hit comes on, you know the flashes come a-rolling. However, it was a passionate performance that everyone quite enjoyed. Lastly came a new song, “Scare Away The Dark”, which saw Passenger in name-check mode, from “hashtags and Twitter” and PSY‘s “Gangnam Style”, this while encouraging that “if we all light up, we can scare away the dark.” This was largely sung away from a microphone, and boy, he can belt and fill up a room. I was majorly impressed. He puts on an awesome show.

The guy’s a sweetheart and seems really humbled by what’s happened thus far with his career. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience in meeting him. He’s a superb performer and an even better person to talk to – he’s just a regular guy, but you don’t know that until someone is humanized for you before your very eyes. Also, I just want to say that as he was signing posters away, I mentioned that he couldn’t just drop “Gangnam Style” in a song without making his next medley a mix of PSY and Los Del Rio‘s “Macarena”, to which he said, “Whoa! That’s a great idea!” I don’t think I was alive at that point, but if that’s going to be my new claim to fame, I will take it. “He inspired a mash-up of the two most annoying songs ever!” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I did. Potentially. Ultimately, the show was over and everyone went their separate ways – he and his crew to New York City, me down to pack up a sound system in Small Town, Massachusetts and thinking about how my chart was going to look this weekend given what just happened, while not fully comprehending everything at the same time. It was the highest point for me this summer by far.

Call me bizarre, judge me, tease me, etc. for fangirling for the growing list of British singer-songwriters that I enjoy rather than a Britney Spears or Lady Gaga type, but that’s just me being different and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Somebody’s got to be there for them. In a world full of cries of “one-hit wonder”, I’d probably be the first to argue that “Holes” or “Things That Stop You Dreaming” (which I would like to be the followup to “Holes”) could make an impact. It’s all part of the job. I’m genuinely excited about what’s to come for Passenger and Nettwerk Records, even if I wasn’t picked to work there — it was the consideration and the validation that counted, that maybe something could work out regardless of what employer it was. Most of all, I’m just thankful that a new favorite of mine is doing so well and can be appreciated by so many people. I’m not the first fan he ever saw or the last, and someone can probably outdo me in making posters and fan videos, but for one guy in Worcester, MA who wants to help the music industry and move onto greater places, this is a night I’m going to treasure, a thing that won’t stop me dreaming — at least for the time being.

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