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Fitz and the Tantrums at Rocktoberfest on Oct. 23.
On Saturday, a parking lot at 29th and University in North Park provided the setting for the first annual Rocktoberfest, an all-day festival that brought eight bands together on two stages.
The festival opened its doors at 11a.m., despite the first band not being scheduled to play until 1:30 p.m. Once it was time for the music to begin, Little Hurricane made sure it started with a bang. The blues-rock duo came across like San Diego's answer to the White Stripes, thanks to some moody riffs, explosive drums and singer Anthony Catalano's belted, high-pitched vocals. The frontman's slide-guitar work was also incredible, ricocheting effortlessly between drop-D chords and power-drill leads. It's too bad that Little Hurricane are moving away -- as is the case with all too many great San Diego bands, it seems that nothing gold can stay.
The Rocktoberfest lineup was filled out with reliable local acts like the Styletones and headliners the Silent Comedy, and each band delivered the solid -- if not groundbreaking -- sets that fans have come to expect. But without a doubt, the finest performance of the day came from the only non-local band on the bill -- LA's Fitz and the Tantrums. Fresh off the release of their red-hot debut, Pickin' Up the Pieces, Fitz and the Tantrums took to the stage with a dazzling charisma that was matched only by their talent. The band's soul stylings sounded every bit as good live as they do on record, and it was a surprise to see that the six-piece doesn't feature a guitarist. Not that they needed one -- from the groovy opener "Don't Gotta Work It Out" to the moving ballad "We Don't Need No Love Songs," the band blew the crowd away with its zig-zagging bass, church organ keys, foghorn sax and danceable beats.
The well-dressed Fitz proved a charming frontman, trading melodies, dance moves and finger wags with vocalist Noelle Scaggs. Fitz and Noelle were skilled at engaging the crowd, frequently inviting attendees to sing along, clap their hands and stomp their feet. The sax-heavy cover of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)" could have been kitschy, but the band sold it with such energy and sincerity that it became a guiltless pleasure. They may have a retro sound, but Fitz and the Tantrums are no novelty act, and throughout their set they breathed refreshing life into an otherwise fossilized genre.
The rest of Rocktoberfest felt very minimal, from the three-item food menu to the barely decorated parking lot setting. And despite featuring beer so prominently on its flier, the actual selection -- Bud Light, Beck's and Widmer -- was uninspired. But Rocktoberfest did excel in the most important area -- lining up some solid bands to entertain San Diegans on what would have otherwise been a quiet autumn day.