Week two of Thursday at the Harbor was certainly a bit more warm, fuzzy, and "I love you, man" than week one's tightly wound, awesome, but somehow not feel-good set from the Cult.
With headliners Fitz and the Tantrums bringing a frenetic, incredibly danceable blend of Motown, funk and pop, a massive crowd digging the gorgeous weather and opening acts that could've been headliners themselves, this night felt like the proper full-on dive after last week's somewhat tentative toe in the pool.
Let's talk about one of those opening acts. Brooklyn-born Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds have been to Buffalo in the past. The band played a fill-in date at the Tralf last summer, caught the attention of local promoter ECE Presents, and was soon booked by that promoter for a gig at Nietzsche's.
The band -- led by the siren's song vocalizations of Arleigh Kincheloe -- is a seriously funky collective capable of bringing elements of deep soul, New Orleans funk, Stax/Memphis stylings and earthy R&B together in a manner that makes the sentient mammal want to shake it a bit. Many of the folks crowding the front-of-stage area did just that, as Kincheloe wove a sultry, sexy spell with her incredible blues-soaked lines and deep-in-the-groove dance moves.
Kincheloe's brother, Jackson, mans the blues harp for the band, and his solos and unison and harmony lines with the four-piece horn section form a significant part of the Sister Sparrow sound.
The crowd ate it all up and responded with vigor, particularly when Arleigh displayed the full range of her voice during a blissful take on "Make It Rain."
An incredibly tough act to follow, then.
But Los Angeles outfit Fitz & the Tantrums is not a band to stand down when a challenge has been issued. Led by vocalist Michael Fitzpatrick and his onstage foil, Noelle Scaggs, Fitz and Co. proved that the Motown influence can spread far beyond any specific or singular cultural niche.
This band plays Motown-styled songs with a modern rock and pop edge. Its strongly song-oriented work sounds great on a song-by-song basis, but during the course of a full set, it all coalesces into a seriously funky dance party.
Fitz has many fans in Buffalo. Those fans were out and ready to bring it big-time on Thursday, greeting songs like "Wake Up," "Pickin' Up the Pieces" and a cover of the Raconteurs' "Steady As She Goes" -- played with a manic, infectious intensity -- like old friends.
The kickoff set from Oregon's ZZ Ward seemed to turn more than a few heads as folks filed into the Harbor area, to be confronted by a female wunderkind.
Ward, who mentioned her blues musician father as a primary influence during her brief but powerful set, grew up listening to Big Mama Thornton and Howlin' Wolf, but was also enamored of the best hip-hop.
And as fantastic as Fitz & the Tantrums proved to be, I have to hand the gold medal to Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds. This band is one of the finest to have emerged over the past five years, and Arleigh Kincheloe is clearly a major star in waiting.
WHAT: Thursday at the Harbor with Fitz and the Tantrums, Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds and ZZ Ward
WHEN: Thursday evening
WHERE: Erie Canal Harbor Central Wharf