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