Let’s Get The Fritz on Jam Cruise Already!
All photos are from Saturday night courtesy of Funk Eye Media
So, I have only two questions.
 How on earth have The Fritz NOT been on Jam Cruise before?
 How do we lobby to get them on?
Because, seriously, this quintet from Asheville is AS GOOD AS IT GETS. They can play at any festival, any time, and hold their own with the very best in jam, soul, rock, and funk. If you’ve seen them, then you already know. If you haven’t, then it’s way past time you found out.
Their contemporaries, BIG Something and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, all formed at the same time, around 2009, and have travelled the same concert and festival circuit, often playing at the same fests. And both of those bands have been on Jam Cruise. Fans hold all three in high regard (order varies, of course).
The Fritz just closed out an August tour that begin with four shows in Colorado, several in the Midwest, then heading south for three nights at Dunedin Brewery (Thursday, August 29 – Saturday, August 31) and a show on September 1 in Jacksonville. Dorian had other ideas about that one, however. (They had to cancel dates in 2017 because of Hurricane Irma pestering Florida.)
The quintet created an interesting plan: Thursday would be a players’ jam, where the band started the show, and throughout the night various local players would sub in and out with the band members. Friday and Saturday would be straight-up funkin’ rockers.
Whatever the expectations were for the jam night, it is safe to say they were gloriously exceeded. As we arrived, vocalist and keyboard master Jamar Woods had already been subbed out, and that process continued all evening. Sam McDonald sat in guitar for “Superstition” and a very jazzy “Satisfaction,” very New Orleans-style with dynamite base from Jake O’Connor. The full band offered a magnificent “Use Me,” Woods stunning on the vocal. A lady named Christine did a fine job on drums. Singer Joe Roma of Row Jomah was truly killer on “Psycho Killer.”
Set two included the band plus guitarist and friend Chazzy, opening with “People Say.” Vinny Svoboda (bass) and Michael Garrie (drums, Antelope) helped the band rip up “Hottentott,” “Do It Like You Do,” and “No Diggity.” Dylan Chee-A-Tow (drums, Row Jomah), Chris Sgammato (alto sax), Melbourne Walsh (guitar, Row Jomah), and MC Nook all got in the act. And this was by far the best material from MC Nook.
Fun night, and a great way to warm up.
The first set was shot out of a cannon. There was no warm-up, no easing into the evening. Guitarist Jamie Hendrickson immediately began abusing his wah-wah pedal on “Unique History.” And every solo he ripped both nights was killer, and those paled in comparison to his James Brown-style chunky funky playing in fifth gear. He is a monster on his axe.
Jamar Woods’ synths colored “Fact From Fiction,” and it was immediately noticeable that, with two sets each night, The Fritz would have the opportunity to explore deep catalog and to stretch out and jam. The jam out of “Casual Mistakes” was huge, and they followed that with a rousing “Take Me to the River” (the Rev. Al Green song). Woods, who loves to throw in teases during the course of a night, nudged “Stairway to Heaven” briefly on the way into “Life During Wartime,” which featured another huge jam, more synths, and wah-wah guitar.
Talking only about Woods and Hendrickson misses the much larger picture. The dynamics of the band are created in the back line with drummer Michael Tillis and percussionist Mikey Spice and bass player Jake O’Connor. They funk the place up and rock the very foundations. It is this total picture that makes The Fritz AS GOOD AS IT GETS.
They gave us a rare look at “Victim of Circumstance,” a tune Tillis explained was written but not recorded (at least not yet). After an outrageous intro, the band turned into a total funk machine on “Too Late,” which yielded to Mikey Spice feature on congas, then a duet with Tillis. When the rest of the band chimed in, it was “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” except that the “vocals” were played on organ. O’Connor was a beast on this one as it headed into another long jam, Hendrickson teasing “Voodoo Child” just before set break.
Set two broke open with a throbbing “Oppenheim,” and then Woods, who had teased the tune during the Thursday jam, led the boys through a monster “Controversy,” one of the tunes they include in their The King of Pop Meets the Purple One set which they have performed on occasion. “This Time,” one of the tunes from recent EP Echo, was a stunner.
The Fritz fancy themselves as “a soul-driven dance rock band,” which is precisely accurate. The few remaining people not dancing certain got up for “Black or White > Don’t Stop (’Til You Get Enough) > Black or White.” On “Don’t Stop,” the “vocals” were performed on the synthesizer. “Undertow” and “Nothing to Find” were huge to close the set, but of course we weren’t letting them off that easily. They encored with “Lithium,” a song that was a bust-out for them at Suwannee Rising in April.
Before “Lithium,” Woods told the crowd, “Now I know some of you are waiting for that song you requested, as if you’re ‘Stuck in Between,’ and maybe we’ll play it, or maybe we’ll open the second set tomorrow with it” (foreshadowing).
[FRI ONE: Unique History, Fact From Fiction, Casual Mistakes, Take Me to the River, Life During Wartime, Victim of Circumstance, Too Late > Papa Was a Rolling Stone; TWO: Oppenheim, Controversy, This Time > Get It Together, Black or White > Don’t Stop (’Til You Get Enough) > Black or White, Undertow, Nothing to Find; E: Lithium]
How would they top that? Your mileage may vary, but both nights were absolutely stunning. It’s hard to image how they continue to get better, but they do. “Voices” and “Easier” opened up set one. It would be incumbent to point out that Dunedin Brewery was packed wall-to-wall both nights; sardines have more breathing room. People were definitely hip to The Fritz.
Clavinet took us into “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” Woods then switching to electric piano for a fine solo that segued into “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” Hendrickson with a huge solo. He also tore up “Working Up a Sweat” and nearly blew out his wrist on the incredible “Another Way” (well, it seemed like it, anyway). Lots of clavinet again from Woods.
Sure enough, as Woods had teased Friday, they did raise the roof with a brilliant version of “Stuck in Between” to open set two to massive approval, then “Anything.” Woods had the entire crowd wrapped around his little finger as he sang “When Doves Cry,” almost island-style, Hendrickson killer again leading into a massive jam and classically trained Woods throwing in a bit of one of his favorites, “Für Elise.” And that all segued into “You.” Next was a song that began with classical electric piano, then a great drums and percussion sequence, and O’Connor kicking it into overdrive, building like “Soul Sacrifice.”
Much of the band’s material is in the funk, soul and rock vein, but “Sawbones” was pure jamband, a cross between Dead and Panic, a great added dimension. Then it was pure fun with a sing-along to “Lady Marmalade”! Shape-shifting again, they tore off face-melting prog with “Sound. Habit. Blame.” DAMN. The jam was huge. It seemed like that was the end, but they immediately rolled into “Foxy Lady,” with Woods on lead synth and Hendrickson wah-wah-ing up the place.
The Friday night crowd deserved an encore; Saturday’s did not. There were a few of us clapping and yelling, but far too many people were just standing around EXPECTING AN ENCORE. They did not deserve it, but they got one anyway.
Woods noodled on electric piano and explained to us that this was audience participation and taught us our lines (which everybody knew anyway), and we ALL sang “Benny and the Jets,” very light-hearted and fun. Then Hendrickson said (approximately), “I think we need to play a little more funk before we get out of here.” HUGE ROAR this time! And out poured a great “Kiss” which became a mind-blowing jam which veered in and out of “Ghostbusters” (thanks, Chuck!).
MUST… GET… THEM… ON… THE… BOAT…
[SAT ONE: Voices, Easier, Boogie On Reggae Woman > Signed, Sealed, Delivered, Please, Working Up a Sweat, Another Way; TWO: Stuck In Between, Anything, When Doves Cry > You, ??, Sawbones, Lady Marmalade, Sound. Habit. Blame., Foxy Lady; E: Benny and the Jets, Kiss]