Fitz and the Tantrums embraces sonic shift

Soulful pop band plays Portland Rose Festival on Sunday in support of 'bold' new album

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If you go

What: Fitz and the Tantrums, in concert as part of the Portland Rose Festival.

When: 6 p.m. May 26.

Where: Tom McCall Waterfront Park, 1020 S.W. Naito Parkway, Portland.

Cost: $28.65 through Ticketmaster, 800-745-3000 or http://ticketmaster.com

Information:http://rosefestival.org/events/rozone/

When Fitz and the Tantrums headlines a show Sunday at the Portland Rose Festival, chances are the band won't be caught off guard the way it was when headlining opportunities started coming its way after the release of the 2010 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," said singer/keyboardist Mike "Fitz" Fitzpatrick in a mid-May phone interview. "So we had to write a few more songs, get creative with some unique covers, and it was definitely like 'all hands on deck' to get it done."

What's providing comfort for the band as they begin a summer of touring is their newly released second album, "More Than Just a Dream," which changes the game when it comes to their live show.

"I think we're all very excited to showcase these new songs from the new record," Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick said the new songs give his group a real body of work, letting them enhance their live show with the freedom to change up their set night after night.

The Los Angeles band went into "More Than Just a Dream" wanting to create an album that reflected the energy and excitement of their live shows.

Fitz and the Tantrums' on-stage chemistry has been apparent from the day the members first played together, Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick began putting together the band in 2008, after he wrote the song "Breakin' the Chains of Love" on a newly purchased Conn electric organ.

His first recruit was college friend and saxophonist James King, who recommended powerhouse female singer Noelle Scaggs and drummer John Wicks. The drummer knew the other two 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 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 radio, breaking the 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 their live energy, but push the sound further than on their debut album.

"We knew that we wanted to make a bold record," Fitzpatrick said. "It felt like if we had just gone and made 'Pickin' 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."

He said the band wrote 35 to 40 songs in less than two months, ranging from "very safe songs" to material that was "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," Fitzpatrick said. "All of it was just the right balance between everything we wanted to say on this record."

The band has reason to be proud of "More Than Just a Dream." The songs are more diverse and cohesive, and while rooted in retro sounds, have more of a forward-looking quality. Tracks range from the percolating soul-pop of "Out Of My League" (a single currently in the top 30 on multiple Billboard rock charts), to the bubble-gum soul of the bouncy "The Walker." The group's knack for buoyant pop melodies is also apparent on songs such as "Spark," "Break The Walls" and "Fools Gold." The latter sounds like it could be a lost Hall and Oates hit, thanks in part to Fitzpatrick's voice, which resembles that of Daryl Hall.

Meanwhile, the album includes some nice changes of pace with the mid-tempo "6 AM" and "Keepin' Our Eyes Out," which moves smoothly between a perky piano melody and epic pop sections.

"I couldn't be more happy or proud of the boldness, the chances," Fitzpatrick said of the new release. "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."

The group's Rose Festival gig starts 6 p.m. at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, 1020 S.W. Naito Parkway, Portland.