The holidays are here again, and with the cold weather and decorations come radio station holiday concerts. Local station KPRi 102.1 hosted its annual Holiday Soirée last Wednesday at the classic San Diego landmark, the Balboa Theatre. Decked in holiday lights and trees, the show included performances by The Head and the Heart, Mayer Hawthorne and top-billed Fitz and The Tantrums.
The Head and the Heart kicked off the evening, which was best suited for those on dates, with a strong opening leading into a quirkily haunting set. The band’s harmonious sound is somewhere between Crosby, Stills and Nash and Mumford & Sons. While the live show was missing the female vocal component on the self-titled debut album, the vocals of the main members were well-matched with each other.
Each of the three groups sets were only about 45 minutes, leaving little time to get comfortable on stage, which was noticeable for The Head and the Heart. The band seemed to be on a stage twice as big, hindering its overall performance. However, The Head and the Heart flowed from one song to the next, the highlight being “River and Roads,” which pulled at heartstrings with its simplistic sound but overall complex tone. One of the closing songs, “Lost In My Mind,” was another standout, and also the band’s biggest hit to date. Guitarist and singer Jonathan Russell described his inspiration for the song as “being on a boat leaving the harbor out to sea.” The vocals are like the first sip of coffee on a chilly morning, with the guitar and piano embodying the mittens and scarf to ward off the cold. The acoustics provided by the venue elevated The Head and the Heart’s entire set. With a few more large-audience shows, its performances will grow into a fiery force of folk-rock.
Mayer Hawthorne came on stage to shake things up and get the crowd dancing. While some of the dancing was best saved for after-hours, the night started to pick up from this point. Hailing from the motor city of Detroit, Mayer Hawthorne takes Motown from the 1960s, throws it into a blender with today’s R&B and produces sassy retro soul. Hawthorne and his band get the GQ award for their slick silver suits, which Hawthorne paired with Air Jordans. The set is best described as Al Green for the modern generation; Mayer Hawthorne is undeniably smooth and groovy. By the third song, the majority of the audience gave into the music and was dancing.
Again, the downside to radio shows is that the sets are never long enough, especially with great musicians such as these, but Mayer Hawthorne pulled out some great hits, including, “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out” and “The Walk.” While they pleased the crowd, “Dreaming” and “Your Easy Lovin’ Ain’t Pleasin’ Nothin’” were the surprises of the night. The first morphed into a cover of Hall & Oates, “You Make My Dreams” and the later perfected the quintessential retro sound, similar to “You Can’t Hurry Love” from The Supremes. Mayer Hawthorne’s sound is well-polished and perfect for stage performances and bringing the crowd into the show.
Coming off of a high point, Fitz and The Tantrums rolled onto the stage with a crowd primed for a funky dance party. Fitz and The Tantrums have exploded on the music scene this year, bringing back retro soul with a modern twist. The combination of Fitz and Noelle Scaggs, with the suave Fitz on one side and spicy Noelle on the other, created a magical presence; their chemistry electrified the stage. Every song has something special when performed live that has not been previously heard on the album.
While prolonged jam sessions can often become redundant, they are well-welcomed in this case. “Don’t Gotta Work It Out” breaks into a full cardio workout dance session for the performers and crowd alike. “Pickin’ Up The Pieces” would not be complete without the unique appearance of a flute, and nor would “Winds Of Change” without a baritone saxophone. The unique use of instruments brings a more dynamic sound to the songs.
The band performed most of its debut album, “Pickin’ Up The Pieces,” which was certainly a highlight. “L.O.V.,” “Don’t Gotta Work It Out” and “MoneyGrabber” were crowd favorites as well. “MoneyGrabber,” Fitz and The Tantrums’ most well-known and biggest hit, had the crowd “as low as they could go” per request of Fitz, before breaking out of the bridge to end the song on a high note. Fitz and The Tantrums are most certainly a group everyone should see before they die. There’s a certain mystical quality to its shows, which could possibly be the blending of genres and sounds in its music. Fitz and The Tantrums’ live shows are high energy and polished, but not in a routine fashion. The band truly works for crowd involvement.