Alabama Shakes’ music can give you chills during a sweaty hot summer night, a very hard thing to accomplish, but done with mastery last night, especially thanks to their electrifying frontgirl Brittany Howard. I got to see the soul band on Thursday night at the Greek theater, and despite the heat wave, I couldn’t stop the thrill running along my spine at each of Brittany’s magic howls.
The Alabama band was truly fantastic, and I retrospectively feel sorry for two reasons: people were not really interested by opener Blake Mills, who played a series of bluesy tunes with a very technical guitar and echoes of jazz. He mentioned ‘The Shakes’ twice and was too aware that everyone was waiting for them. Did these people even know that he produced the Shakes’ last album? Then, from where I was standing, I could only see Brittany Howard, but that was all I needed to see to be thrilled, so I also feel a bit sorry for the rest of her excellent band.
When The Shakes came on stage, everyone stood up and didn’t really sit down during the whole show, and since I was sitting behind a mountain-size man, my view got suddenly badly obstructed. I immediately moved down, to a seat closer to the stage, which was still available despite the sold-out status of the show since January? I will never understand the logistic of shows and, as a bad obedient person, I definitively rarely stay at my assigned seat during these arena shows. There, I got closer to the action, something essential to me when there is so much life on stage.
Howard was a force, a fury, commanding the stage like a rock star, and the public was responding to each of her howls with cheers and claps in a way I have rarely witnessed at a concert. The show was a triumphant succession of their ‘Sound & Color’ songs alternating with songs off their first album, ‘Boys & Girls’… But it did matter which one they were playing, Brittany Howard tackled all her tunes with the same visceral passion, tearing them apart until they had given off all the soul they could.
Wearing a floral-print kimono robe, her hair short and her mouth wide open as if she was going to swallow the mic at every minute, she roared and growled, while her voice was bringing many nuances at each song, going from the most intense scream, then turning her yells to an almost mute mumble or an emotional scream. Combining an unrestrained energy with impressive skills, she exulted soulfulness at each moment with a rare natural and ease, when other performers work very hard to achieve half of what she accomplished last night. The audience was certainly with her, acclaiming and clapping in the middle of a song, transforming the night at the Greek Theater into a gospel church-like ambiance. Brittany praised the beauty of the place, ‘the best place they have ever played in LA’, she dedicated a song to someone ‘who could not be here because he was in jail’, another one to each of us who were supporting the music, but she didn’t have to say much to own the night, her personality is so strong, that she doesn’t need anything else. All night-long, her weird howls soared and crashed into intimate whispers of a vulnerable beauty, then rose again into a wall of thunder over wobbling keys and shuffling drums. Even the slower tunes such as ‘Gemini’ or ‘Dunes’ were intense, and she held the audience at the tip of each of her screams, while making strong facial expressions, sweeping the sweat from her eyebrows between songs.
But it would be so reducing to say that Alabama Shakes is a soul band, the sonic range of their last album is vast and unconventional as it covers large chapters of music history. ‘Shoegaze’ is this amazing bluesy piece distilling so much punk rock attitude, while the cathartic ‘Miss You’ or the acoustic soul of ‘This feeling’ showcased Brittany’s visceral persona. Her voice during the odd stop-start of ‘Gimme All Your Love’ reached some orgasmic proportions and they played ‘The Greatest’ very fast, as if it was a leftover punk song of the Velvet Underground. I could hear some Bowie or even something from the Stones at each detour of their music, while Brittany, who has been compared to every soul star from Janis Joplin to Aretha Franklin, Erykah Badu and Otis Redding, was rising like a rock or metal star in front of my eyes during the falsetto of ‘Don’t Wanna Fight’ and the distorted guitar solos of ‘Gemini’.
Alabama Shakes are the real thing, they may well be one of these American bands which will make history, which will be remember forever, I may have witnessed something big last night. At least I got this impression, the emotion was overwhelming, I may have shed a tear or two during a few songs, this almost never happens to me during a show, and I can’t explain why. Ha this woman, this strength of nature, is certainly not faking anything, empowering the entire Greek theater audience… ‘So Please don’t take my feelings/ I have found at last’ is still the line stuck in my mind today, yes I want to go back to this overwhelming feeling.
Rise to the Sun
Gimme All Your Love
I Ain’t the Same
Don’t Wanna Fight
Sound & Color
You Ain’t Alone
Over My Head
Want to join me in supporting a good cause?
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – December 1980 (Volume 12, Number 7)
Boy Howdy! did Susan Whitall put together a solid team of writers
its own glammy road not travelled
“This was his best performance ever.”
his best song since “I Will See You In Far Off Places”
expected series of punk veterans
I have this thing where I get older but just never wiser
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – November 1980 (Volume 12, Number 6)
an almost indefinable purity