Words // Scott Pingeton
You'll be hard-pressed to find a review of Alabama Shakes that doesn't refer to them as a buzz band. And I suppose at this point, that's hard to dispute - they're fucking everywhere. But, I perceive "buzz band" as a derogatory term implying unfounded hype, a popularity bubble due to burst at any moment. That is not Alabama Shakes. As meteoric as their rise has been, I honestly believe it's built on merit. I saw this coming the first time I heard their self-titled EP (my favorite of last year). Bob Lefsetz can spout as much bullshit as he wants about them not paying their dues and needing a producer. He may even be right, but when it comes down to it, their songs move people and they deliver them with passion, grit and intensity that 99% of bands just do not possess. I see no problem with that.
The first time I was aware that Alabama Shakes were playing Boston was October of last year, opening for North Mississippi All-Stars. The same night as The Low Anthem's big Somerville Theater show. I chose The Low Anthem, a regrettable choice for many reasons. Since that time I've anxiously awaited the Shakes' return to Boston - hearing breathless, gushing reports of their live show - hoping they would still be playing clubs by the time they finally made it to Boston. Sunday night I got to experience the spectacle first-hand, and it didn't disappoint.
The band took the stage to a thunderous ovation - opening the set with the slow and restrained "Goin' To The Party" which kept a lid on the energy in the room. Pressure gradually built until the band launched into "Hold On", kicking off a four-pack of songs that nearly blew the damn roof off of the Paradise. "Hang Loose" dumped the clutch and jammed it into 5th and "I Found You smoldered with intensity until exploding into its pounding, Muscle Shoals-channeling finish. "Always Alright" started slow and, again, built up to a thunderous finish, which caused the sold out crowd to absolutely lose their shit. An extended, absolutely deafening roar erupted causing Brittany Howard to wonder out loud "What the fuck just happened?". You just turned 900+ people into true believers, Brittany, that's what.
From there, the band shows that they know how to pace a show. Slowing things down and showing their bluesy side with "Boys & Girls", "Be Mine" and "Worry'n Blues" before slowly building back up to a raucous finish. What impressed me throughout the night was how the band competently held down their parts, but never once tried to upstage their frontwoman - clearly the star of the show. Brittany Howard lays it on the line. She sings every word like it's the last time she'll ever sing, wringing every bit of emotion out of her voice and her guitar strings. And that voice is otherworldly; at one moment taking on a raspy growl that recalls Otis Redding and at the next moment it's as soft and sweet as Carla Thomas. She doesn't go through the motions, she performs like her life depends on it -- and the crowd certainly acknowledged the effort. It was probably the loudest crowd I've ever seen at a club show. Brittany agreed -- calling us "the loudest crowd [she] ever met".
As the night wore on, quintessential lighter-in-air song "You Ain't Alone" segued into the rockabilly barnburner b-side "Heavy Chevy" to close the main set. Unlike most shows where the encore break marks an exodus of casual fans, no one left. Everyone clapped and stomped and screamed for what felt like an eternity. They made us work for more, and we were happy to oblige. If there was no encore, I would have left happy. A four-song encore "I Ain't The Same", "On Your Way", "Heat Lightning" and brilliant cover of Led Zeppelin's "How Many More Times" was just gravy.
To see Alabama Shakes live is to believe in the buzz. They will convert you. They will knock you on your ass. If you see this band and don't believe in the power of rock n' roll, check your pulse. This was one of the greatest shows I've ever seen.
Complete live recording from the show is below. I taped from the balcony, stage-right -- the sound is warm, live and really captures the electricity in the room that night. It is (in my opinion) an incredibly enjoyable listen. Enjoy, and if you do, please support Alabama Shakes by buying their album and seeing them live.
Paradise Rock Club - Boston MA
April 15, 2012
Goin' To The Party
I Found You
Boys & Girls
Rise To The Sun
Making Me Itch
You Ain't Alone
I Ain't The Same
On Your Way
How Many More Times (Led Zeppelin cover)
Full set download: mp3 zip