Alabama Shakes Slay Austin City Limits Taping (SHOW REVIEW)

Photo by Scott Newton/Courtesy of KLRU

Midway through the Alabama Shakes’ taping on Austin City Limits the crowd spontaneously erupted into a loud “Happy Birthday”. The moment of joyful randomness was directed at the band’s lead singer Brittany Howard, who was celebrating her birthday by playing the revered television show for the second time in three years. Though she only turned 27, Howard has grown into a seasoned performer over the last few years, and she brought that experience to an adoring audience in Austin on Friday night.

Making up the core of the setlist was the band’s recently released album Sound & Color. The crowd hardly seemed to mind that more well-known songs like “Hold On” weren’t played, because, after all, it was Brittany’s birthday and she clearly was excited to perform each and every song off the new album. Compared to the songs on their first album Boys & Girls, the songs on Sound & Color find Howard tapping into the full power of her incredible voice. The band also succeeded in cranking out the kind of smooth, soulful rock and roll that feels like it was made for a jukebox. This combination of such a tight band with one of the most commanding voices in music right now made the Alabama Shakes electrifying onstage at Austin City Limits. The band pushed forward with slow, simmering soul music punctuated by bursts of Howard’s raw emotion. This could be heard on songs like “Joe” – which featured hair-raising vocals – and a positively riveting “Gimme All your Love”. There were also moments of straight R&B, like on the smoking, perfect “Sound & Color”. Howard enlisted the help of her background singers to layer sumptuous harmonies over her vocals on the final song of the night, “Over My Head.”

After ninety minutes of swelling emotions and chill-inducing songs, the Alabama Shakes left the stage and did not return for an encore. They didn’t need to, because they had put enough into their performance to far surpass expectations and completely enrapture the audience. It was the kind of performance that left you with an overwhelming sense of hope that rock and roll is alive and well. Take one glance at the painfully mediocre lineup for the Austin City Limits Music Festival – which the Shakes played the next day – and you’ll quickly release just how valuable that is. Happy birthday Brittany.

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