Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fitz and the Tantrums? Splendid!

First order of business: have you read my last post on Charitable Giving 2013?  Tell me where to give my money!

Now, on to this ridiculously long love letter to the band I saw last night.

I first heard about Fitz & the Tantrums back in April when I saw this mention of them on Hello Giggles.  I immediately purchased the first album, Pickin' Up the Pieces, based on the iTunes clips of the songs.  I also pre-ordered their sophomore album, More Than Just A Dream, that was set to come out a few weeks later.  

Image via

Lead singer (and band namesake) Michael Fitzpatrick has said in interviews that the band is heavily influenced by the classic soul music that was produced in the 1960's, specifically at Motown and Stax.  That was evident to me from my first listen.  The opening vamp on the second track, "Dear Mr. President" sounds like it could be the opening of an Aretha Franklin song.  I think that's a large part of why I like Fitz & the Tantrums so much - it has the edge of new rock and pop music paired with the comfortable familiarity of decades old soul music.  The marriage of the two styles works so well for this band, and I feel like it's a style that isn't represented as much in current music.

The band also differs from many current rock bands in that there is no guitarist.  James King plays guitar on a few tracks, but more often than not, he's manning the keyboard or wailing on bari sax (he even plays flute on a few tracks!).  All of the musicians in the band are great, but it's no secret that there is real power in the combination of lead singers Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs.  Their voices mingle so well together, and by having both a male and a female lead singer, it opens up a lot of lyrical choices.  They can sing about love and heartbreak, and it's like the audience is watching an actual couple sing their feelings.  The chemistry the two have on stage is so fantastic that a lot of people actually think the two are a couple.  (They aren't - Fitzpatrick's girlfriend gave birth to their son while he was on tour in September.)  The strong chemistry isn't only seen on stage; it can also be heard in their voices.

Both albums have been in heavy rotation on my playlists since then, so when I saw that the band was coming to Assembly Hall (sigh... State Farm Center) in November, I was thrilled.  LP Stacey and I bought tickets weeks in advance.  The Bright Futures Tour was co-headlined by Capital Cities and Fitz & the Tantrums.  They tapped fellow LA musicians, Beat Club, to open for them each night.

Beat Club is a band that is clearly wet behind the ears.  The music was more electro-pop than I prefer, but it wasn't wholly unpleasant to listen to.  I was not a fan of their lead singer and his unnecessarily foul mouth.  As a fellow potty mouth, it's not that he was dropping f-bombs that bothered me.  It's more that it felt forced, like he was trying to be edgy.  It also seemed to be the only adjective he knew, and he applied it liberally between each song.  Lame.  However, I did think it was kind of adorable that the drummer was wearing a Fitz & the Tantrums shirt.

It's hard to see, but trust me, it's there.
Following the Beat Club set, Capital Cities took the stage.  Honestly, I hadn't really listened to Capital Cities till last night.  Of course I do hear "Safe and Sound" on the radio about a million times a day.  I did try to familiarize myself with their album, In a Tidal Wave of Mystery, over the week.  I didn't dislike the music, but I think my excitement over Fitz was clouding my honest judgement of the music.

Capital Cities put on a thoroughly enjoyable set.  They have great energy, catchy hooks, and my favorite (of course) - a trumpet player!

Okay, so his moves were kind of cheesy, but he was still a great horn player.  And the crowd loved him.  At one point he swapped his trumpet for a purple pBone, which also went over well with the crowd.  They unsurprisingly closed with "Safe and Sound", and the crowd went wild.  It seemed like the song would never end, and that was okay, because we were all having a fantastic time.  We were safe and sound.

I wasn't expecting to enjoy the Capital Cities set as much as I did.  But it was so lively and energetic, and just plain fun.  I may not have known many of the songs before the concert, but I woke up with them in my head this morning.  Catchy jingle writing jerks.  I decided that Capital Cities may be less of a "listen at work" kind of band and more of a "bathroom/kitchen dance party" kind of band.  And I'm okay with that.

At long last, the house lights went back down, the LED heart lit up, and Fitz & the Tantrums took the stage!

They opened the set with "Keepin' Our Eyes Out" from their second album.  They followed that up with "Don't Gotta Work it Out" from Pickin' Up the Pieces.  The whole set was a nice mix of songs from each album, which was great.  Because let's be honest, when you go to a show, and the band only plays songs from the new album without honoring its own past, it's disappointing.  

The middle of the set had lots of energy, sandwiching "Breakin' the Chains of Love" between "Break the Walls" and one of my favorites, "Spark". 

One of the strangest and most enjoyable moments of the show for me was the cover of the Eurhythmics' "Sweet Dreams".  I feel like even Annie Lennox didn't have as much fun performing this song in concert as the Tantrums have.

During the second half of the set, they played "Out of My League" which has been getting regular air play for the last couple months.  It even made it to the top of the Billboard charts in September.  

They played some of their slower tunes after that, but they closed the show with "L.O.V." which was a total blast.  The band vamped on the ending for quite a while.  They even brought Capital Cities trumpet player, Spencer Ludwig, out to improvise with James King on saxophone.  The best descriptor for the end of the show would be raucous.  The crowd was going wild, everyone was dancing, and the band was clearly having a great time.

Despite the fact that the show was not as well attended as it could have been, the audience was deafening at the end of the show.  The band came back out to perform a two-song encore.  First they played MoneyGrabber from their first album.

They closed the show for realsies with uber-catchy tune, "The Walker" from More Than Just a Dream...

 complete with confetti cannons.

I just had such a great time at this show.  Sure, my ears were still ringing when I went to sleep, my body physically aches from dancing so much today, and getting out of bed this morning was nearly impossible.  But it was all totally worth it.  I enjoyed the show so much that I looked at the rest of the tour schedule today to see if I could make it to another show.  Sadly the only two shows that are remotely near enough are both sold out.

I've been really lucky to see some really excellent shows this year, and this was most certainly one of them.

Oh yeah! You also might recognize some of the Fitz & the Tantrums songs from various commercials and TV shows.  I made a playlist on YouTube of all the commercials I could find.  Grey's Anatomy also featured the band three times: "Dear Mr. President" in season 8, episode 4; "Spark" in season 9, episode 19, and "The End" in season 10, episode 5.

Seriously give this band a listen.  They make me super happy.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Charitable Giving 2013? Splendid!

We’re coming up on the first anniversary of when I started this blog.  Okay, yes, by “coming up” I do mean it’s more like 6 weeks away, but that got me thinking about my first posts.  I started this blog a week before Christmas as a way to talk about organizations in my community that were about to receive donations from me.  I plan to make more donations this year, and while I still think last year's recipients are very appropriate choices, I'm interested in what you think.  I have some incredible friends and family who support all kinds of causes that are important to them (hint: that's you!).  I want to know what those causes are.  What organization do you think should receive a donation this year from me and why?

Last year I donated only to organizations that are based in Champaign County.  If you make a strong case for an organization based somewhere else, I'm totally willing to broaden my horizons.  To sweeten the deal for you, if I choose an organization you suggest, I’ll send you a box of homemade sweet treats!  Submit suggestions using this form.

I also did a short series on Gifts that Give Back, so if you have suggestions for that, please leave a comment below.

Monday, November 4, 2013

October Favorites? Splendid!

In my time of employment limbo, I found myself watching a lot of videos on YouTube, specifically beauty videos.  I started by watching tutorials for products I had or hairstyles I wanted to try, but I found myself watching countless videos of vloggers' monthly favorites.  For some reason I find them kind of fascinating.  I think it's interesting to see how products are featured by many different people one month and completely ignored the next.  Anyway, with the big fat move, a lot of my stuff was packed up for a couple weeks, so I definitely found myself reaching for some things over and over.  These are my favorites from the month of October.

Hair - Macadamia Natural Oil Hair Masque
Every beauty blogger and vlogger I've read/watched in the last year has mentioned this product.  It's a deep repair treatment that rebuilds hair and improves elasticity and shine.  It's kind of pricey for a hair product, so I was skeptical to buy the giant tub at first.  While browsing the shelves at Ulta one day, I found a trial size foil packet of the mask, which I thought was great.  I love being able to try a generous sample size of something before committing to a full purchase.

I definitely think this product has helped my hair feel healthier.  It combats frizz without weighing my hair down.  I use it once or twice a week after shampooing and conditioning as normal, and I've noticed significantly less breakage at the ends of my hair.

Make up - Benefit Erase Paste in 02 Medium
Be it genetics or sleep deprivation, I have some major dark circles under my eyes.  I recently tried a roller ball style under eye concealer, but when I tried to blend it in, the makeup often turned white and just looked plain weird.  I've been using the Benefit Boiing concealer on the rest of my face for a few months now, and I had heard great things about Erase Paste.  I once again found a mini size in Impulse Aisle (you know, the kiosks with the tiny sizes of everything right by the registers) at Ulta, and thought I would give it a shot.

I was nervous to use it at first, because it's a very salmony pink color.  I had no reason to worry though because the pink counteracts the darkness under my eyes to blend out to a more natural skin color.  I do need to set the concealer with powder so it doesn't settle into the creases under my eyes, but I'm having much more success than with the previous products I've tried.

Nails - OPI San Francisco Collection: Haven't the Foggiest
I've alway had great success with OPI nail polishes, and I love this color.  The silver is shiny without being full of chunky glitter.  It applies beautifully and finishes almost like chrome.  I applied two coats to my nails (along with base coat and topcoat) the Thursday before we moved, and the only reason I had to take it off 7 days later was because I snagged a nail, and it took a big chunk of lacquer off my nail.  I knew it would only get worse as we finished moving.

Skincare - Boscia Luminizing Black Mask
I've heard great things about the Boscia brand in general and the Black line in particular.  Once again I was able to find a trial size of the Luminizing Black Mask (are we seeing a trend yet?) in a trio with the Brightening White Mask and the Cooling Blue Mask.  All three are peel off masks which can be a little weird.  In fact, I was removing the Brightening White Mask while talking to Stacey last night, and she had to look away because it looked like I was peeling off my own face, apparently.

I liked all three masks, but the black mask was my favorite.  It left my skin feeling clean, my pores were minimized, and it wasn't drying as some purifying masks can be.  Now I'm even more interested in trying out the other products in this line - especially if I can get them as samples!

Kitchen/Food - Gimme Some Oven's Hummus Crusted Chicken
I've been trying to consume more vegetables - plant life in general, really - lately, and I saw the Hummus Crusted Chicken recipe from Gimme Some Oven on Pinterest.  Hummus comes from chickpeas which are plants, so that's close enough for me!  The recipe also involves roasting some veggies with the chicken breasts, so that's good too.  I have a weird relationship with hummus.  I like it, but I don't think I had it for the first time till after college, so it's still kind of a new food for me.  Because of that, I remain skeptical of it.  This chicken singularly changed my mind about hummus.  This is the best chicken recipe I think I've ever made, and I've made a LOT of chicken.  The hummus creates a great coating for the meat (I wouldn't call it a crust, even though it's titled that) which keeps all the juices in, creating a tender and flavorful dish.  I made it twice in October, and both times, it was cooked perfectly.  I'm usually concerned about undercooking poultry, and this dish didn't even require extra time in the oven.  Of course, I can't leave well enough alone, so I did sprinkle some panko crumbs over the coating to give it some extra crunch.  I highly recommend this recipe.  It's super simple to make and completely delicious.

TV - The Mindy Project
If you're not watching The Mindy Project on Fox, then I'm not sure we can be friends anymore.  Mindy Kaling's show is in its second season, and every episode leaves me telling Stacey that I just love it so much.  I adore the Mindy Lahiri character in all of her simultaneously self-aware and delusional glory.

I love that Mindy's character is fun and silly and over the top while still being smart and good at her job.

I love the supporting characters in the series, too.  I'm especially happy to see Adam Pally making appearances this season.  I was heart broken that ABC cancelled Happy Endings, so I'm really happy to have him back on one of my shows.  Also, Pastor Casey?  Amazing.

Music - Ray LaMontagne "You Are the Best Thing"
I realize I'm late to the Ray LaMontagne party, but at least I showed up eventually!  I actually listened to this song because my friend Adam mentioned it on Twitter.  As a trumpet player, I'm a sucker for a good tune with a horn section.

Listen to/buy the track here.
This song reminds me of music from my parents' generation, and that's a very good thing.  LaMontagne's voice is so raw and soulful.  I like a lot of his songs I've listened to, but I keep coming back to this one.

Book - Rob Sheffield's "Turn Around Bright Eyes"
I've read Rob's two previous books, "Love is a Mix Tape" and "Talking to Girls about Duran Duran", and I enjoyed both quite a bit.  I first started reading his books because I recognized him as one of my favorite people on the VH1 "100 Greatest..." shows.  His books are autobiographical, and he doesn't hold much back.

Buy it on Amazon
I really admire how thoroughly he incorporates music into his books.  It's clear that music truly is his passion.  "Turn Around Bright Eyes" focuses on the importance of karaoke in his life and relationship.  It's kind of a strange concept, but he makes it work so well.  There's a chapter on the Beatles that is just superb.

Place - New Apartment!
We are finally all moved in to the new apartment!  Of course we're no where near finished unpacking, and we don't have a couch, but we're all in!  Slowly but surely we're making our place feel more like home.  Nearly all of the Ikea furniture has been assembled, and we're starting to get rid of boxes.  We both love the new place so far, and hopefully that won't change any time soon!  I can't wait to start having people over once we're more settled.

Misc - Keyboard shortcut: command + shift + T
Ever close a tab in a web browser and immediately regret it?  Command + shift + T will reopen the last tab closed.  One of the great things is that if the accidentally closed tab isn't the most recent page, you can keep doing it until you find the right one.  I've been using this trick a lot recently, because apparently I'm an idiot who keeps closing tabs I need to refer back to.