Schubas, Chicago, IL • 5/23/10
I never thought I would see concert fans singing along and doing the finger motions to “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” with zero hesitation, at a rock concert, but that’s exactly what Tim Fite can do to a crowd. The last time I saw Fite live, he was handing out free watermelons while he rocked the Hideout Block Party in Chicago in 2008, but during this Schubas show he took us deeper into his wonderfully wacky and twisted world with a cartoon short-film fest to compliment his carnivalistic melee of hip hop, folk, blues, spirituals, rock, pop… and nursery rhymes.
Since 2004, the Brooklyn-based Fite has released two proper albums on Anti and a string of self-released albums for free on his website (www.timfite.com). As far as genres go, Fite takes immense pleasure in cunningly mashing them all up. And whether he raps, sings, or shouts, his lyrics have a strange and beautiful way of sneaking into your mind and heart making you giggle, grimace, or get fired up about what is firing Tim Fite up. 2007’s Over the Counter Culture, was all about the evils and contradictions of war, gangsta bling, and consumer culture, and with this year’s Under The Table Tennis, Fite — yet again — pulls no punches. He cranks up the cunning and shows his skills as a crafty contemporary satirist extraordinaire.
Whether he was using a mic, loop tracks, a sampler, or just his acoustic guitar, Fite evoked cheers, woots, and yelps from the crowd. From the front of the stage to the back of the house, faces were plastered thick with elation and glimmering with a goofy sense of happiness mirroring the man on stage leading the celebration.
Firing on all charismatic cylinders, Fite looked like a preacher floating on air who was unable to contain his joy of being caught up in the spirit. Giving way to his inner emotional surge, he jumped off the stage and raced into the crowd during the empathetic, cautionary, and extremely catchy pop sing-along tune “We Didn’t Warn You.” After dancing in a swirling circle of celebration with fans, he darted from the center of attention on the floor and leaped back on stage to take us to the show’s fantastic finale via the flippantly inspiring “Big Mistake.”
Without a doubt this show topped Fite’s block-rocking watermelon affair in 2008, mainly because of how he used the cartoon side-show videos which he played in between songs. To the average person, the cartoons — which he writes, draws, and produces all by himself — might appear juvenile and silly, but that’s just because the man is so good at what he does. Among other strange creatures and quirky concepts, the series of videos featured a hilarious “Dog and Pony,” “a little pink cockroach that crawls in your mouth when you’re sleeping,” and “three little pig bankers who are getting fat feeding on their porky corporate bail outs.” Each video was packed with subtext and metaphor that would take too much time to explain in this review alone. But at the very least I’ll say that when it comes to making videos to play on back-dropped screen during a concert, I wish other band’s videos would have as much creativity and originality as Fite’s do.
That said, I’m convinced that Fite must be a fan of Mary Poppins, too. Not just because he can pull just about anything out of his bottomless bag of storytelling tricks and musical hooks, but because he’s become a musical master at adding just the right amount of fun and satirical sugar to make the otherwise heavy and bitter tasting topics he sings about sound so sweet.
Tim Fite: www.timfite.com