By Caleb Calhoun
As far as I could see, there wasn’t much of a choice. Sure, there were other bands playing at other venues around town. But the thought of being anywhere other than Fritzgiving on Friday at Asheville Music Hall was almost enough to make my stomach turn.
I arrive early and begin my night downstairs at The One Stop for Free Dead Friday #252 or, as I like to refer to it, “church.” It’s always a beautiful place to kick off the weekend and tonight is no exception. The recent addition of Cassana Manje (of Phuncle Sam) to the weekly lineup is a cool breeze and the children playing among the crowd lends a gathering-type feel.
That’s one vibe. The Fritz are planning on offering up something else entirely. The Hustle Souls, a local Asheville band, get things kicked off and, while they bring some good songs, their music doesn’t logically leading up to the Fritz funk. Still, it’s good to have something to dance to while waiting for the main event.
Asheville can be a little overwhelming at times. On any given evening you have to make tough choices. Just this week our already overburdened citizenry will be forced to decide between Karl Denson with Jimmy Herring or Mike Gordon on a Thursday (though for true locals this is, and always will be a WSMFP kind of town). You see these beautiful souls, you dance with these beautiful bodies, you speak with these beautiful minds, and then you spend the next eight weeks wondering if you will ever run into them again.
But not tonight. Fritzgiving is the party that everyone is at and, judging by the smiles lighting up the room, we are all feeling high, weird, and happy. I’m on the upswing and the cigarettes just aren’t doing it for me any more. I’m ready for music. I’m not the only one.
Back inside, the boys take their time tuning up, they’re feeling the energy and slowly milking it. The lights dim, the house music fades, and Jamar Woods launches into a whimsically sad piano arrangement. He’s teasing us, of course, playing with our emotions. He knows that we need to dance as much as we need to breathe right now, but he’s in charge here.
The tension builds and a slow murmur goes through the crowd. My friend sees me squirming and places her hand on my back. I turn to look and as I do, the rest of the band steps in and my head turn becomes a hip twist which becomes a spin which becomes a shake and then BAM, I’m making my way up to the front of the stage.
The first song is new and, like several of the newer tunes they will play this evening, manages to add a bit more of a festival bop without diminishing the dirty funk. There are sections of the song where the entire crowd is seemingly running in place, and sections where we’re slamming our asses against one another with abandon.
After 10 minutes of this frenzied pace, they stop playing for maybe a total of two seconds before launching into “Sound. Habits. Blame.,” a masterpiece off of their first album, Bootstrap. The front of the stage is something else. Inhibitions quickly fading, sex dripping like sweat from Jake O’Connor’s bass guitar, it can only be likened to some kind of pagan ritual, bodies being moved by and worshipping at the altar of Wood’s vintage Korg.
With the roof of Asheville Music Hall about ready to blow, The Fritz decide to turn things up even more, dropping out of “Sound. Habits. Blame.” and into the David Bowie standard “Let’s Dance.” The crowd is surging and moving as one. We’re barely hanging on, hoping for nothing more than to soak up as much of this groove as possible while somehow managing to keep our feet.
After a few more newer songs (and several more Bowie teases), the boys tap back into their roots with a spectacularly heavy version of “Oppenheim” before finishing off the set with a trio of tunes including a raucously fun, dirty-Latin, pop-funk ballad called “Too Late.”
It is all over far too soon and with still another act to come, there’s no chance of an encore. I have the feeling that we all would have been left wanting more, no matter how long they played, though 100 minutes did seem brief to the point of being cruel.
Still, the short set didn’t make it any less of a revelation.
Asheville Music Hall is a professional venue and The Fritz are true showmen. As if being musically on point isn’t enough, as entertainers they are second to none. From Captain Spice on the percussion, sailors hat atop his head and bobbing up and down like Ringo from Yellow Submarine, to Wood’s dirty dance moves and hair-pick infatuation, they are the consummate performers.
This is the kind of excellence and energy that you associate with Vulfpeck. This is the kind of excellence and energy that you associate with The Motet. This was a show for the record books and I, for one, hope that 20 years from now, I’m the old guy in the back of Fritzgiving #20, telling anyone that will listen about how I still have a poster and setlist from Fritzgiving #1. Telling anyone that will listen that once upon a time, I was there.
Caleb Calhoun studied writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and music at a plethora of clubs and bars across the southeast. He is the author and publisher of Rosman City Blues and currently resides outside of Asheville with his dog and best friend, Dr. Gonzo.