Alabama Shakes

Steve Harris on 29 January 2013 in Gig Reviews


Alabama Shakes

Performing on January 24th 2013 @ The Forum

It’s a full house at the Forum tonight, and it’s easy to see why.

Alabama Shakes’ debut record Boys & Girls has been the runaway success of 2012. From humble beginnings, the Athens, Alabama-based quartet have grown into a worldwide tour-de-force.

On tour for the Big Day Out, Alabama Shakes have snuck in a few sideshows to spread their wings with a few non-festival-curtailed sets.

Alabama Shakes’ story began only a short distance downriver from the famed Muscle Shoals, a mecca for rhythm and blues and rock n’ roll throughout the 60s and 70s.

Studios in the area at that time cut some of the most important songs of the 20th century from the likes of Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, and Wilson Pickett, on the back of the famously versatile FAME Studios Rhythm Section.

It’s not often a town of only 5,000 people produces one of the finest rhythm sections in the land – but rather than seek the bright lights, they didn’t have to move.  They had ‘the groove’, and everyone from The Rolling Stones, to Paul Simon flocked to get in on it.

This rhythm section almost single-handedly crafted foundation of hundreds of bands and thousands of albums, though few more overt and popular than contemporary locals Alabama Shakes.

Their attentiveness to the finer nuances of the groove via the rhythm section of the baby-faced bassist Zac Cockrell and drummer Steve Johnson, have bottled the sound built by Muscle Shoals and reinvigorated it for a new audience.

Tonight, it’s this audience, as Alabama Shakes take the stage with a humble, if appreciative wave from the players to the sold-out crowd.

Opening with the understated ‘Goin’ To The Party’, the band take a minute to stretch out and draw composure before tearing straight into ‘Hang Loose’ and breakout single ‘Hold On’.

New song ‘Always Alright’ follows, and proves an early highlight; somewhat Springsteen-like in its dogged backbone and austere lyrical commentary.

If this number is a fair indication of what we can expect from the follow up to last year’s Boys & Girls, the band have clearly not strayed too far from the reservation.

‘I Found You’ and ‘Rise To The Sun’ follow, genuinely asserting again that these songs stand firmly in the shadows of uncompromising simplicity, and appear more compelling for it.

Indeed the considerable virtues of this band lie within the performances – particularly that of the emotive bombshell Brittany Howard out front, whose unconstrained range of outpourings and confessionals prove noting short of magnetizing.

The tone comes down some for ‘Heartbreaker’, the affecting performance seeing Howard breath deep from the bottom of her lungs, physically shaking with tension at the lines: “I wanted to grow old with you/ you told me so? but then you go/ How was I supposed to know?

The Shakes tear through the rest of their performance in a flight of rock n’ roll, rhythm, and country soul drawn heavily from their album. There’s also several numbers from their Heavy Chevy bonus EP, and new songs highlighted by ‘Worryin’ Blues and ‘Making Me Itch’, the latter a blistering ‘50s-inspired up-tempo rock n’ roll number with more than a tip of the cap to Jerry lee Lewis.

You don’t have to look too far to see where Alabama Shakes have been, from the history of Muscle Shoals, to their meteoric rise to mega-stardom only a short year ago.

For now, it’s infinitely more interesting to look to where they’re going.

For a band whose music is rooted in an oft-overlooked past of America’s Deep South, the evolutionary process to and through the next stage of their career will be one under heavy scrutiny, but if what was heard tonight is any indication, the kids are gonna be alright.


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