When Alabama Shakes took the stage, led by the inimitable Brittany Howard, the sold out crowd at the Independent in San Francisco was face forward and at full attention. And despite the fact that the band is only rolling on profuse word-of-mouth and an incredibly solid EP, that full attention lasted throughout the 90-minute set.
The 23 year-old Howard is a hurricane force. Well-grounded in her Limestone County, Alabama roots, the band’s effortlessly charismatic lead channeled Janis Joplin and Mavis Staples, while still adding a style of her own as she careened through the crescendoing set. Confidently exhausting their most well-known songs with the short story-led “Going To The Party” and their lead single “Hold On,” the band moved on to show their adroit, modern take on Southern Rock, demonstrating how much they deserve the wave of critical success since their breakout performance at the CMJ Music Marathon. The crowd – as well as the Independent’s reputedly stone-faced sound and lighting crew – gave the band their full, enrapt attention as the 15 song set departed from their four-song EP, only available on the web and at their shows. Every single song in the set was an experiment in power, with the band exhibiting diverse dexterity with downtempo songs like “Boys and Girls,” bluesy tracks like ”Be Mine” and a rocked out Led Zeppelin-inspired final encore of “On Your Way”.
Betraying their relative freshness in the live music scene, Howard and bandmates Heath Fogg, Zac Cocrell and Steve Johnson, with keyboardist Ben Tanner, warmed and interacted with the crowd as the show progressed, and the audience confirmed their enthusiasm. Even though Howard’s slick story-song style lent to more of a game-faced performance than an interactive one, the one hundred percent she gave rendered any potential objections unobjectionable.
Bottom line, Howard has a one-of-a-kind voice that we’ll be hearing for years to come if the band’s songwriting remains strong. The enviable bass guitar playing from Cocrell and a flub-free night from this convivial band bodes well, despite Howard complaining of frequently breaking strings on her guitar. Alabama Shakes was almost too big for the club-sized Independent, and is moving on to sold out show after sold out show, including three nights in London. If their set is the album that is scheduled to drop in April, it’s clear that they will be one of the biggest breakout acts in 2012 and we’ll be lucky to be seeing them at festivals and large venues throughout the summer.
ALABAMA SHAKES- HOLD ON (Live at Lakeside Lounge 12/10/2011)
Going To The Party
I Found You
Boys And Girls
Rise To The Sun
You Ain’t Alone
I Ain’t The Same
On Your Way