Live Review: Alabama Shakes at House of Blues, August 16, 2012

Alabama Shakes at Outside Lands Festival 2012 – photo by Sylvia Borgo

For the span of a little under 60 minutes this past Thursday night, soulful songstress Brittany Howard and the members of Alabama Shakes transformed the sold-out House of Blues into a tiny, crowded, Deep South southern bar on a warm summer night. Howard describes her ups and downs and heartache in a vintage, long-lost way forgotten by today’s radio darlings. Alabama Shakes are best described as Americana soul blues, and seeing them live is comparable to coffee on a rainy Sunday morning reading the New York Times.

The band is brand new to the music scene, and with thanks to KCRW and Starbucks for heavy rotation of their debut album, Boys & Girls, the highly acclaimed album has been brought to the masses. The show opened with “Goin’ to the Party,” a short, less-than-two-minute introduction to the slow blues that effervesced throughout the set. The band continued with their two most well-known songs, including their single, “Hold On,” building the first half of the set.

Howard’s voice brings back the soulful vocals from the 1960s, the deep emotion powering her vocals earning her comparisons to Janis Joplin. The band complemented her voice and guitar by adding heavy blues and folk rhythms. “Rise to the Sun” was the hidden gem of the set, letting her inner Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin emanate through her microphone.

Alabama Shakes closed out the hour with “I Found You” and album bonus track “Heavy Chevy,” once again finding a showcase for Howard’s powerhouse vocals and guitar.

“Bless my heart, bless my soul” is the first line of their debut album and breathes the essentials of their live show, restoring faith into the audience of the euphoric possibilities of live music.

Athens, Georgia’s Futurebirds opened for Alabama Shakes, and also brought their southern roots and harmonies to the stage. While keeping the Americana-rock revival alive, the band also combined elements of psychedelic rock of the late 1960s.

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