In December of last year I sent out an email to a group of friends suggesting they purchase tickets to a band almost no one had ever heard of. I warned that these $5 ticket would sell out in the coming months. I also sent them a write-up I had done a few months earlier which included a link to the video that hooked me in the first place. Only one of these friends actually bought tickets, and he happened to be the only one who actually knew the band beforehand. Two months later we’re at the Fox Theatre waiting for Brittany Howard and her Alabama Shakes to take the stage…and I am apprehensive. I can’t help wondering if this band (who has only released 4 songs) will live up to the lofty expectations I have put on them. I had bought quite a few tickets for my friends, literally forcing them to give up other plans to attend this show. It could not be a disappointment. Luckily, it not only lived up to my high expectations, it exceeded them in a huge way.
Since that Hold On video was posted back in September, this young band has managed to sell out most dates of their North American tour, including this last stop in Boulder, Colorado. It was the Friday after the blizzard of 2012, but it was as hot as an Alabama summer inside the Fox Theatre as the band shook Boulder with their straight-up, soulful rock ‘n roll. It’s not often I get to write about a band that can be described in simple terms like soul, blues and rock ‘n roll — a band as exciting as anything happening today, yet without the need for its own (postindiecorewave) genre — a band that doesn’t need a gimmick or anything else to sell you their snake oil. Alabama Shakes just walk out onto the stage and rock the house like it was built for them. It really is as simple as that.
“Can I tell you a story about a boy growing up…who told me we were too old to be friends…I said bullshit…I don’t talk to him anymore…wrote this for him”
The house was packed when the band took the stage at 10:30pm, but luckily there was still some elbow room down on the main floor. It was immediately evident that these cushions of space were going to be necessary as Alabama Shakes proved true to their name. From the opening of the first song, through “Hold On” and “I Found You”, as well as a few unknown songs, there literally wasn’t a still body in the venue. To say the band ‘moves’ the crowd would be a gross understatement. I haven’t been to a hip-hop where there was so much booty shaking going on! The dance party was non-stop for at least 4 or 5 songs before Brittany spoke directly to the crowd. “Feeling good? Ready for anything?” A roar of approval served as an unanimous “Yes!”, leading us into a few more down-and-dirty blues numbers.
It’s not often a band can hold my attention with material I’m not familiar with, but with the exception of “Hold On”, I really couldn’t differentiate between the new songs, the older songs and the covers(?) — and I mean this in the most positive way. Every song, every vocal, every chord sounded equally amazing. Individual tracks didn’t even come into play in this hour of amazing energy. You could almost call it a jam session that never lost its way — never veered off course into the never ending solos and ‘bang-your-head-against-the-wall’ boredom where so many jambands find themselves. In fact, the band deliberately place themselves in the background, setting Brittany’s huge personality and ‘force-of-nature’ vocals center stage at all times. You would be forgiven for thinking Brittany IS Alabama Shakes, but that would be a mistake — every member of this band is key, as showcased during a track that might have been called “Be My Baby”, when Brittany stepped aside for a moment and allowed us to focus our attention on what had been right in front of us the whole time. Alabama Shakes are more than just a pretty voice, they are the full package!
“We’re Alabama Shakes…really are from Alabama…first time to Boulder…beautiful state, beautiful city”
The first set lasted about an hour and covered 15 songs — each one making the April release date of their debut album seem further and further away. Besides the usual ‘way too young, way to drunk’ minority in the college town crowd, it was obvious that everyone felt it was the best $5 they had spent all year. The encore finished up with the only Alabama Shakes EP track missing from the main set, “On Your Way”. A fitting finish to a great night, and what can only be described as an extremely successful tour from a young band on its way — first to Europe and then to larger venues with much larger crowds! I am just happy I was there to witness the beginning, and that none of my friends were disappointed in their decision to join me in Boulder last night.
Setlist: (just guessing at most song titles)
There’s Gonna Be A Fight
I Found You
Be My Baby
? (band introductions)
You Are My Man
You Ain’t Alone
Make Me Feel So Good
Used To Be
On Your Way