Tag Archives: Alabama Shakes


Benjamin Booker Proves to Be the Real Deal at Mercury Lounge

November 7th, 2014

Benjamin Booker – Mercury Lounge – November 6, 2014

Benjamin Booker – Mercury Lounge – November 6, 2014
There was little known about Benjamin Booker, a one-time aspiring music journalist, his last time through town to play Mercury Lounge in April. He had just a few singles, a minimal Internet presence and a pretty short bio: “Benjamin Booker is a young New Orleans–based singer-songwriter. He is influenced by the Gun Club, Blind Willie Johnson and T. Rex.” Since then, his sensational self-titled debut full-length was released to near unanimous praise and his profile has risen dramatically, thanks in part to an opening slot on tour with Jack White, fiery festival performances at Newport Folk Fest and Lollapalooza, and a national TV appearance on Letterman. So in some sense, seeing him last night at Mercury Lounge was like catching Alabama Shakes and Gary Clark Jr. there four days apart in December 2011—watching a musician play a room he’d already outgrown.

Booker’s debut LP showcases an evocative, whiskey-soaked voice that belies his young age. (Based on what he sounds like, you almost expect him to appear live in sepia tones or black and white.) Released this past August, it’s obviously a modern album, but from the very first listen, the punkish, soulful bluesy garage rock sounds familiar, like an unearthed gem from the past—not like you’d previously heard its influences, but rather you’d actually already heard this album. Performed live, alongside a pair of talented musicians, drummer-mandolinist Max Norton and bassist-fiddler Alex Spoto, songs like “Violent Shiver,” “Have You Seen My Son?” and “Old Hearts” grew into something more than their recorded versions, Booker’s raw, raspy vocals blossoming onstage as the trio jammed their way between tunes, often making a lot more joyful noise than your typical three-piece.

While incredibly expressive, Booker, who began performing live just two years ago, wasn’t particularly chatty. “It’s nice to be back at Mercury Lounge. We played here earlier in the year. It’s one of my favorite rooms. Here we go,” he said just before they lit into “Kids Never Grow Older,” a sweating Booker quietly barking out the opening stanza in a whispered snarl. Alternating between standing still with his left leg twisting in place and hopping across the stage, belting out distorted guitar riffs, he appeared to be every bit of a star in the making. No more so than as the show concluded with him, his guitar strap broken, shredding from his knees at center stage. Booker still has room—and time—to grow, and even despite singing, “The future is slow coming” in “Slow Coming,” in some ways, it feels like it’s here now, and Benjamin Booker has already arrived, fully formed. —R. Zizmor

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com


Kick Off Your Weekend with Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires

July 16th, 2014

Lee Bains III is no stranger to New York City. In fact, he studied literature at NYU. But four years was enough, and the lure of the South, specifically his hometown, Birmingham, Ala., was too strong. So he returned to his roots and four years ago teamed up with the Glory Fires—Eric Wallace (guitar), Adam Williamson (bass) and Blake Williamson (drums)—to make Southern rock with a punk ethos. Their first album, There Is a Bomb in Gilead (stream it below), was released in 2012. AllMusic said Bains “knows how to tell a good, compelling story with an interesting set of characters, and he successfully walks a fine line between letting his literate instincts have their day and keeping these stories unpretentious and realistic.” Additionally: “This is a band worth watching, and an album that deserves your attention.” Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires (above, performing “There Is a Bomb in Gilead” for BreakThru Radio) gained further attention thanks to an opening slot on tour with Alabama Shakes. And now the quartet has returned with a heady follow-up, Deconstructed (stream it below). According to NPR, “This isn’t a new space for Southern rock; in many ways, it is Southern rock, made by rebel sons who question that identity from the Allman Brothers through Skynyrd and on to Drive-By Truckers…. Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires are intense enough to fully refresh the legacy they’ve joined.” Out on the road in support of their excellent LP, they play Mercury Lounge on Friday night. Local five-piece Brooklyn What open the show.


And Still They Rise

October 5th, 2012

Alabama Shakes – Terminal 5 – October 4, 2012

Alabama Shakes are something of a paradox: At last night’s sold-out show at Terminal 5, they performed with the ease and assuredness of a veteran band, although they’re only a couple of years removed from forming during high school in Athens, Ala. And although the speed at which their popularity has grown (debut album Boys & Girls only came out just six months ago) may be something of a rare feat in the music world, it’s probably not that surprising to fans of the band’s roots-y, dynamic music, delivered with ferocity and conviction by velvet-voiced frontwoman Brittany Howard.

After getting onstage, the band wasted no time. “Goin’ to the Party” led right into “Hang Loose,” followed by “Hold On”—just letting the momentum build. As Howard sang, the crowd repeatedly burst into applause whenever she delivered an especially meaningful statement. But hey, when you hear that killer voice sing things like, “All them girls might wanna rip us apart / If they wanna fight, they done fucked with the wrong heart” (“Be Mine”), well, you’ve pretty much got to believe her.

As Alabama Shakes moved from the slow-building, bluesy vibe of “On Your Way” to the fiery, soulful intensity of new song “Always Alright” and on to Otis Redding–level passion on “Boys & Girls,” the songs upheld a sense of being wise, well-worn and lived in. Chalk it up to the sheer talent and chemistry of the musicians, or perhaps we’re hearing something more: a type of authenticity that comes only with youth. Whatever phenomenon may have led to the power of Alabama Shakes’ sound, it’s certainly a treat to watch the band perform. A most beguiling paradox. —Alena Kastin

Photos courtesy of Jeremy Ross | jeremypross.com

(Watch Alabama Shakes play “Boys & Girls” in the Mercury Lounge coat-check closet for The Bowery Presents Live.)


Grow a Pair: Win Free Tickets to See Alabama Shakes on 10/4

October 2nd, 2012


Alabama Shakes keep getting bigger, playing a larger venue each time they come through town. And this week is no different. The band hits Terminal 5 on Thursday night, and the show sold out quickly. But you’ve still got another chance because The House List is giving away two tickets. Want to go? Try to Grow a Pair. It’s easy. Just fill out the form below, making sure to include your full name, e-mail address, which show you’re trying to win tickets to (Alabama Shakes, 10/5) and a brief message explaining why October is the best month of the year. Eddie Bruiser, an Octoberphile, will notify the winner by Thursday.

(Watch Alabama Shakes play “Boys & Girls” in the Mercury Lounge coat-check closet for The Bowery Presents Live.)

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The Bowery Presents Live Features Alabama Shakes

April 17th, 2012

Although they’re really from small town Athens, Ala., Alabama Shakes seem to have come out of nowhere. Their debut LP, Boys & Girls, just came out last week, and there’s deservedly been a lot of buzz behind them—mainly due to Brittany Howard’s dynamic voice—ever since they played The Bowery Ballroom at last year’s CMJ Music Marathon. And today they’re featured on The Bowery Presents Live. See them, above, playing “Boys & Girls” in the coat-check closet at Mercury Lounge and then be sure to watch them discuss their fast start and musical roots, plus a playlist of the band’s choice cuts. And make sure you subscribe to The Bowery Presents Live to stay in touch.


Alabama Shakes Transcend Genre and Era

April 12th, 2012

Alabama Shakes – The Bowery Ballroom – April 11, 2012

The Bowery Ballroom was thriving with excitement as Brittany Howard and her bandmates in Alabama Shakes descended upon the stage last night. The sold-out crowd was in for a treat from the much-lauded band out of Athens, Ala. And anchored by the leading lady’s gut-wrenching vocals, Howard and company did not disappoint. Playing almost entirely from their debut album, Boys & Girls, released on Tuesday, the quintet began with “On Your Way.” On one of the album’s standout tracks, “Hold On,” it was Howard’s glasses barely holding on as she crooned, “You’ve got to hooooold on.”

Throughout the show, people in the audience, who seemed hard pressed not to have a good time, chimed in, “Sing it, girl!” But this ain’t no Wilson Phillips, friends. Girl can sing. Aside from her amazing pipes, Howard’s cheerful demeanor invigorated the crowd. She introduced “Boys & Girls” with a backstory about her childhood best friend, a boy who later ended the friendship because she was a girl. “I knew that was bullshit,” said the singer. Melding rock and roll, soul and rhythm and blues, Alabama Shakes transcends genres. Played live, “I Found You” was reminiscent of Raphael Saadiq’s old-school R&B.

There’s no denying Howard’s vocal resemblance to Janis Joplin’s as she throws every ounce of herself into each song. For their new tune, “Making Me Itch,” Ben Tanner (aka Styrofoam Jones) brought crazy keys that would’ve made Jerry Lee Lewis proud. Finishing an hour set of mutual admiration with a “Love you, Brittany” and “Love you, New York” call and response, Howard concluded with how cool for school New York City is and how being here made her equally feel cool. Funny thing! Seeing Alabama Shakes play The Bowery Ballroom = priceless cool. —Sharlene Chiu

Photos courtesy of Dan Rickershauser


The Bowery Presents Live Is Giving Away Tickets

April 4th, 2012

Want to see cool music and have the chance to win free tickets to a great show? Then subscribe to The Bowery Presents Live now. For a chance to win, send us a screenshot of your confirm-subscription page along with your full name and YouTube ID to bowerypresentslive@gmail.com, and we’ll pick a winner at random. We’re giving away two tickets to an in-demand show each week, and the first giveaway is for Alabama Shakes at Music Hall of Williamsburg on 4/12. You gotta play to win. Act now.


The Bowery Presents Live Is Live

February 13th, 2012

The Bowery Presents’ newest venue is online, youtube.com/thebowerypresents. If you’re looking for live-streaming shows and intimate performances and interviews from big-name bands and the next big things, subscribe to The Bowery Presents Live. We’ll live-stream one show each month, starting with Brooklyn’s Sleigh Bells, live from Terminal 5 on Friday, 2/17, at 10:30 p.m. EST. Although the show is sold out, you won’t be left out because you can watch it as it happens on The Bowery Presents Live. But you don’t have to wait until Friday to check out bands like the Antlers, Caveman, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Alabama Shakes because they’re playing our newest venue right now.


Do Believe the Hype

December 12th, 2011

Alabama Shakes – Mercury Lounge – December 9, 2011

Bassist Zac Cockrell, guitarist Heath Fogg and singer-guitarist Brittany Howard knew one another in high school. Two of them later met drummer Steve Johnson at the lone music store in tiny Athens, Ala., and the four began making a stew of music together. Slowly word began to spread. Aquarium Drunkard fired the first salvo, calling Alabama Shakes (then just the Shakes) “a slice of the real” and posting the slow-burning, attention-grabbing “You Ain’t Alone” back in July.

For a while a self-titled EP, featuring that song and three others, was all most anyone heard of the band. But the group’s talent was immediately clear. And anticipation grew leading up to the Alabama Shakes’ Bowery Ballroom appearance—now with a keys player—at CMJ in October. Heady, flattering comparisons, quickly followed, like Janis Joplin (for Howard’s voice and demeanor) and Muscle Shoals (for the band’s gritty blues-and-soul-inflected rock sound). The quick rise then continued as the band signed with ATO Records and had “You Ain’t Alone” appear in a Zales commercial. So the hype was palpable ahead of Friday’s sold-out show at Mercury Lounge.

All too often bands with a retro sound come off like they’re trying to approximate something, but the Alabama Shakes’ music is earnest, raw and real. The crowd was responsive from the start, prompting Howard to say, “Y’all sound so beautiful.” And while the songs people knew, like “Hold On” and “I Found You,” elicited the loudest response, on the strength of Howard’s powerful, lived-in voice, even the ones they didn’t, like “Be Mine,” “Boys and Girls” and “Going to the Party,” were greeted with hooting and hollering. Not even two months earlier, the group’s members barely made eye contact onstage and even less often peered into the audience. But on Friday night, the new band with the old soul was in control, playing the kind of music that grabs you by the collar and, on a rambling cover of “How Many More Times,” smacks you in the face. —R. Zizmor

Photos courtesy of Ahron R. Foster | ahronfoster.com


Two Bands You Shouldn’t Miss

October 21st, 2011

High Road Touring Showcase – The Bowery Ballroom – October 20, 2011

Alabama Shakes

That old E. B. White line about there being three New Yorks, that of the born-and-bred, that of the commuter and that of the transplant, always feels particularly relevant during CMJ, a mixture of hardened music-industry brass, New York City bands hoping to gain national exposure and regional acts making their way to the city in hopes of the same. The 8 p.m. band, Alabama Shakes, at a uniquely focused Bowery Ballroom, represent the second, commuters playing their first New York City gig. Three hours later, UK favorites, Dry the River were making their second jaunt to the city, out-of-towners, jet-lagged and in search of that crack in the US music market. These two transients, a pair of the most compelling acts at this year’s CMJ, plied their craft with a commuters’ intensity: restless, energized and ephemeral, success to be determined by the unnamed music executives and consumers in the crowd.

Alabama Shakes looked comfortably out of place, a warm slice of rustic rock with none of the pretense of NYC bands that traffic in the same influences. There were moments that feel channeled through Otis Redding’s seminal “Try a Little Tenderness” and others where vocalist Brittany Howard—and you simply won’t hear a better voice this year—yelped and pitched with the seasick sublimity of Janis Joplin, broken and perfect and gritty. The band remains largely introverted, save for Howard’s spinning movements around the stage, even on a second-to-last roots-rock jam played for nearly seven minutes. But it’s this band’s more explosive moments that had SPIN magazine name them one of the 25 bands not to miss at this year’s CMJ. Perhaps most important, the e-mail exchange on the Blackberry of a somewhat disinterested gentleman at the upstairs bar. The addressee: Norah Jones. The subject line: Alabama Shakes.

Dry the River, a different form of New York transient, shuffled to the stage to considerably less fanfare just after 11 p.m. and with the baggage of being a major-label act overseas but a beginner to music fans here. Playing their best song, “No Rest,” first, they carried the audience, showing the scatter and wear of day three of CMJ, to the top of the room with the biggest chorus you’ll hear in 2011. Screaming “I loved you in the best way possible” has all the potential to be cloying or overwrought and yet, amazingly, never was. Another single, “Ceremony,” in a kinship relation to this broad-scope refrain, chilled the crowd with the aplomb of a tour-toughened band with a penchant for the grandiose. But it was “Bible Belt,” a song about troubling contradiction, that tied together a UK folk-rock act wistfully reflecting on the American red states and an American red-state original (yes, Alabama Shakes hung around, watching from the front row), a shared vision of having come here for a very specific reason. —Geoff Nelson


CMJ Music Marathon Starts Today

October 18th, 2011

It’s that time of year again: 20-minute sets; in midtown one minute, the Lower East Side the next; scarfing down food with minutes to spare before the next show. From Mercury Lounge to The Bowery Ballroom and beyond, the CMJ Music Marathon is upon us. Here’re which bands we’re specifically looking forward to seeing play live. New York City quintet Caveman transfers any pop sensibilities into a dreamy landscape of lush indie harmonies through love, nostalgia and other sentiments. In support of their debut, CoCo Beware, Caveman will play 10 shows during CMJ, including the Bowery Presents showcase on 10/22 at Pianos. —Tina Benitez

The CMJ Music Marathon, now in its 31st year, is back to make five days in October seem impossible to navigate. Expect packed lineups at each venue because every band you ever wanted to see is in town. The supergroup Wild Flag, featuring Mary Timony, from Helium, and Carrie Brownstein, of Sleater Kinney among others, kicks off things tonight at The Bowery Ballroom. And at the same time Afro-punk Presents Death to Hip-Hop, featuring technical death-metal pioneers Death and Brooklyn’s own skate-pizza punk, Cerebral Ballzy, whose name really says it all. Wednesday’s pick has to be the ever-controversial indie rap group Odd Future at Terminal 5. Then on Thursday try to get into the sold-out lineup at Mercury Lounge, with garage-rock Xray Eyeballs and Florida’s Jacuzzi Boys, followed by Memoryhouse’s atmospheric shoegaze and finally, J. Mascis. You will show up at 6:30 and stay the entire night. Friday has more fuzzed-out pop with Dum Dum Girls and Crocodiles at The Bowery Ballroom, and if you sleep over, on Saturday, Gang Gang Dance’s experimental electronic beats just might give you a chance to recover. And then sleep on Sunday for 24 hours before work. That’s your CMJ. —Jason Dean

Last year I spent the majority of CMJ camped out at Terminal 5 for My Morning Jacket. But this year I plan to get around. Not everyone has an abundance of free time, so if you can only hit one show, my money’s on the High Road Touring showcase at The Bowery Ballroom on 10/20. And despite it being a stellar lineup from top to bottom, for me the No. 1 band to check out during the whole festival is Alabama Shakes (above, playing “I Found You” for Live from the Shoals). The quartet, out of small-town Athens, Ala., has a four-song EP and an incredible bluesy-soul sound. You won’t want to miss Brittany Howard’s voice. Sure, she’s a postal worker by day, but she’s a bona fide rock star by night. Don’t miss this. You’ll be able to tell your friends you saw this band at the very beginning. —R. Zizmor