Last night the Troubadour was packed with folks out past their bedtimes. They came from record labels, radio stations, music licensing companies, newspapers, and even Spoon. (Hi, Britt!) They were there to see what the Alabama Shakes could do, curious to see with their very own eyes if one of the most-hyped bands of 2012 had the goods. Half the crowd, seemingly, was music industry types clutching their drinks, making small talk about Spotify, and waiting hungrily for the band to emerge from the darkness of the stairs.
Slightly after ten Alabama Shakes appeared. They did not look like rock stars. There was nothing slick or polished about their clothes or their hair or their shoes, nor did they match each other. They were about as coordinated as a History study group. But as soon as lead singer Brittany Howard took the mic, the room surrendered to her body and soul.
With a candy apple red guitar and her giant gold earrings shaking under a mass of dark curls, Howard belted out a set in a rich gravelly voice. Spit flying everywhere, stories came spilling out of her unvarnished, unashamed, and completely disarming. "Are you scared of what someone's going to think?" she sang. "Are you scared to wear your heart out on your sleeve? Are you scared of me?" The answer was of course, yes. Anytime anyone gets on stage and reveals all their cards to the world, it makes people nervous.
The set last night was all raw guts, spit, and sweat. Drummer Steve Johnson kept everyone in line, while bassist Zac Cockrell looked relaxed as his fingers flew up and down his bass, while he gently nodded his bearded head. Lead guitarist Heath Fogg looked barely old enough to drink, but was viciously quick on the electric guitar, while Ben Tanner's keyboard added waves of rich gospel organ sound, giving each song a holy quality.
By the time the set ended, any doubts about the group were erased; one suspected crowd members were ready to go out and get Alabama Shakes tattoos. The Troubadour came alive, stomping, hooting, and dare I say it, hollering for an encore. People had long ago put down their drinks and were shimmying along to the beat. The band came back on stage and shut the place down with "Ain't the Same" and "On Your Way."
Personal Bias: Anytime a band is described as "vintage soul" I'll give it a listen and then either destroy them for being phony or give them all of my money. There is no middle ground.
Overheard in the Crowd: "It's all networking, really. Just meeting people. Saying hi. Schmoozing and boozing."
Notebook Dump: Hopefully these guys won't let anyone will fuck with their sound. God knows people will try.
Set list below.