Philadelphia’s the War on Drugs craft songs with momentum. The synths underlying “Holding On” (above, performed live on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert), off their latest release, A Deeper Understanding (stream it below), chug along like a runaway train. Over the band’s four full-length albums, songwriter Adam Granduciel and Co. have fine-tuned what was already a well-oiled machine right out of the gates. They enlisted the production help of L.A. engineer Shawn Everett, known for his work on the Alabama Shakes’ masterful Sound & Color, for their first major-label record. A Deeper Understanding takes the War on Drugs’ signature expansive sound and pushes it, well, deeper into new terrains. On “Nothing to Find,” the beats plow through gorgeous swirling soundscapes of analog synths, and Granduciel’s vocals at the end sound like he’s howling into a massive canyon the song’s just blown into the earth. The War on Drugs’ music feels both large and personal, with softer numbers still showcasing a tenderness that sounds just as grandiose. The album’s gorgeously produced, and any little snippet of its soundscapes risks working its way into your head and never leaving. As their sound has grown bigger, so too has the group’s following, snowballing off the success of 2014’s much-acclaimed Lost in the Dream (stream it below). One album later and the New Yorker is ready to propose that they’re rock’s next torchbearers. The War on Drugs will make their case and then some when they return to New York City next week to play Terminal 5 on Tuesday and SummerStage on Friday. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks
Tag Archives: Alabama Shakes
Muscle Shoals, Ala., singer-songwriter John Paul White is best known as the guitarist half of the Grammy-winning Americana, country and folk duo the Civil Wars. But when the band imploded in 2012 and then officially broke up two years later at the height of their fame, White (above, doing “What So” live in studio for WFUV FM) took it in stride, running Single Lock Records with Alabama Shakes touring keyboardist Ben Tanner and then returning to his own solo career. A second full-length album, Beulah (stream it below), came out this past August to considerable acclaim: NPR Music called it “a wise, entrancing and meticulous bit of Southern folk” and the Wall Street Journal added that it’s as “if Faulkner had cut a rock album.” White kicks off a brand-new tour today, and he plays the early show at Mercury Lounge on Monday night.
Tags: Alabama Shakes, Ben Tanner, Beulah, Civil Wars, John Paul White, Live Music, Lower East Side, Mercury Lounge, Music, New York City, Preview, Video
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Matt Myers (vocals and guitar), Zak Appleby (vocals and bass), Shane Cody (vocals and drums) and Katie Toupin (vocals and keys) formed the folk-rock-Americana quartet Houndmouth in the Louisville, Ky., suburb New Albany, Ind. Their first LP, From the Hills Below the City (stream it below), arrived in 2013. “Simple pleasures abound on the debut album from Indiana quartet Houndmouth: pure, true harmonies, precise playing, familiar themes about being lost and losing in America,” according to the Guardian. “Even the recording is lovely.” While out on the road, the band picked up new fans each night on tour thanks to their upbeat live shows filled with shared vocals and instrument swapping. Houndmouth (above, performing “Darlin’” live in studio for KEXP FM) returned last year with their sophomore release, Little Neon Limelight (stream it below). Per NPR Music: “Quite a bit of Houndmouth’s reputation has been built on exuberant live shows and the Greek chorus effect of all four voices joining in hale and hearty harmony during nearly every refrain. They tap those sensibilities in even more vital ways on Little Neon Limelight, with a youthful devotion to shaggy, swinging, big-screen storytelling that distinguishes their work from many of their more confessional, serious-minded peers.” With Toupin’s recent departure, they’ve added Caleb Hickman (keys), Drew Miller (horns) and Graeme Gardiner (horns)—and that six-piece is coming our way, on Saturday at Terminal 5, with two excellent singer-songwriters, Rayland Baxter and Lucy Dacus, opening the show.
Tags: Alabama Shakes, Caleb Hickman, Drew Miller, Drive-By Truckers, From the Hills Below the City, Graeme Gardiner, Houndmouth, Katie Toupin, Little Neon Limelight, Live Music, Lucy Dacus, Matt Myers, Music, New York City, Preview, Rayland Baxter, Shane Cody, Terminal 5, Video, Zak Appleby
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A musician’s musician, California native Blake Mills is a talented dude, ably working as a singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer and composer. And even if you don’t know his name (yet), plenty of big names in music do. “Eric Clapton recently called him ‘the last guitarist I heard that I thought was phenomenal.’ The producer Don Was says he is ‘one of those rare musicians who come along once in a generation,’” according to the New York Times. Mills founded his first band, the Dawes precursor Simon Dawes, with high school friend Taylor Goldsmith. When the group broke up, Mills went on to play in Jenny Lewis’s band and to tour with Band of Horses, Fiona Apple and Lucinda Williams, while managing to find time to do session work with the likes of the Avett Brothers, Norah Jones, Kid Rock, Neil Diamond and Lana Del Rey. As a means to drum up more session work, Mills (above, performing “Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me” for Public Radio International) put out his debut solo album, Break Mirrors (stream it below), in 2010, which led to him scoring producing work with acts like Conor Oberst, Alabama Shakes and Sky Ferreira. His sophomore effort, Heigh Ho (stream it below), arrived last year to some impressive reviews: “It moves through musical eras and genres without ever sounding out of place, too clever, or at all clumsy. Mills is as centered as a songwriter as he is a player and producer. There is nothing extra here and that’s as it should be. Heigh Ho puts on offer much of what he’s learned these past four years, and displays it all with acumen and openness,” per AllMusic. Currently winding down an East Coast swing, Blake Mills plays Music Hall of Williamsburg tomorrow night. Local jazz guitarist Julian Lage opens the show.
Tags: Alabama Shakes, Avett Brothers, Band of Horses, Blake Mills, Break Mirrors, Conor Oberst, Dawes, Don Was, Eric Clapton, Fiona Apple, Heigh Ho, Jenny Lewis, Julian Lage, Kid Rock, Lana Del Rey, Live Music, Lucinda Williams, Mollusk Surf Shop, Music, Music Hall of Williamsburg, Neil Diamond, Norah Jones, Preview, Simon Dawes, Sky Ferreira, Taylor Goldsmith, Video
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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
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.
Tags: Adam Williamson, Alabama Shakes, Allman Brothers Band, Blake Williamson, Brooklyn What, Deconstructed, Drive-By Truckers, Eric Wallace, Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Mercury Lounge, Preview, There Is a Bomb in Gilead
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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
Tags: Alabama Shakes, Ben Tanner, Boys & Girls, Brittany Howard, Heath Fogg, Mercury Lounge, Otis Redding, Photos, Review, Steve Johnson, Terminal 5, The Bowery Presents Live, Zac Cockrell
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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.
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 – 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
Tags: Alabama Shakes, Ben Tanner, Bill Cowher, Boys & Girls, Brittany Howard, Heath Fogg, Photos, Raphael Saadiq, Review, Steve Johnson, Styrofoam Jones, Zac Cockrell
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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’ 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.
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
High Road Touring Showcase – The Bowery Ballroom – October 20, 2011
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