The evening started slowly at The Greek. A very small group of mostly 20 to 30 somethings huddled in front of the stage to experience opening act Blake Mills. The rest of the theater was sparsely populated while singer / guitarist Mills and his band gave an admirable performance, featuring a powerful, minimalist arrangement of Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece." Roughly an hour and a half later, the entire theater had filled to its 6000-ish capacity, and the audience had begun to dance and rock in anticipation of the main act. When Alabama Shakes took the stage, any remaining beer-chugging, yahoo blowholes were swallowed up by a wave of energy that did not recede until the show ended.
Alabama Shakes's lead singer / guitarist, Brittany Howard, does not look like your run-of-the-mill rockstar; she looks more like the kind of person who bogarts the microphone at a PTA meeting, but to experience her stage performance is to be transported to another world where spiritual, blues rockers can capture your soul with their spasmodic facial contortions and the sound of their wailing. It may not sound pretty in print [or on your screen], but that's the point. The sound of Alabama Shakes transcends other modes of perception.
Since the band released their first album, Boys & Girls, in 2012, they have been receiving awards and recognition from the industry. The heavy wafts of pot smoke detected in the air at The Greek revealed that they have also secured an audience of classic rockers and descendants of classic rockers; the audience included moms and pops who were introducing their wee ones to that good ol' '70s concert vibe, wherein hallucinogenic smoke was popularly inhaled rather than flavored, plastic resins.
Howard and her band; Heath Fogg (guitar), Zac Cockerell (bass), and Steve Johnson (drums); kept the entranced audience aglow for roughly an hour and a half with their performance of the entire song list from their sophomore release, Sound & Color (2015), along with half of Boys & Girls and a couple others. They did not perform their single "Hold On," from Boys & Girls, but that was of little consequence, as the band layered enough grit, soul, and muscle into each of their songs to kill for pretty much the entire duration of their show.
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Their performances were tight, as was their light show. In fact, the choreography of their light show was so concisely timed with their music that it seemed a little too tight for this type of music. Granted, Howard and her bandmates are incredible performers, but with the type of music that they do, it might be nice to see some of their songs go into extended, improvisational jams rather than all clock in at a conservative 3-4 minutes.
Alabama Shakes provides a rewarding experience. Their setlist is not fueled by a measly one or two numbers that everyone rocks out to prior to slumping back in their seats. Their sound is a throwback to the rhythm and blues bands of yesteryear, with enough hard edge, vulnerability, and warm sheen to both satisfy the old guard and indoctrinate newbies into classic rock appreciation, and yet it is all wrapped up in a tidy, little package. This was the first time that Alabama Shakes had played The Greek, and they killed it. The fact that people already knew about the band well enough to pack the joint shows that the Alabama Shakes will continue to increase in popularity and street cred to the point that they will become as immortal as the rock bands they modeled themselves after, and perhaps then some.