The powerful return of Alabama Shakes

Brittany Howard and her band returned to Milwaukee for a sold-out show at the Riverside Theater, packing the venue with soul-blazing southern rock.

By - Dec 1st, 2012 01:38 pm
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Brittany Howard and Alabama Shakes at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee. All photos Erik Ljung.

Alabama Shakes last visited Milwaukee in March, selling out the Pabst Theater before even releasing an album. Last night at the Riverside, lead vocalist Brittany Howard and her band tore down the historic theater with the return of their bluesy, soul-fueled rock. It’s not even fair to call Howard a “vocalist.” She is something far beyond that, something fearsome to behold.

After opening with a cover of the Squidbillies theme song (yep), Alabama Shakes launched into favorites from their 2012 album Boys & Girls.

After selling out the Pabst Theater in March, Alabama Shakes returned to Milwaukee and sold out the Riverside.

First came a teasing “Goin’ to the Party,” a slow and deliberate jam with Howard’s husky voice warning “You’re goin’ to the party by the end of tonight / There’s gonna be dancing and there’s gonna be a fight.” The crowd was so titillated and jacked that when the happy, melodic guitar riff dropped from “Hang Loose,” I thought everyone would go into cardiac arrest from sheer joy.

The entire evening featured lovely touches from touring pianist/organist Ben Tanner, though it was hard to catch if you didn’t rip your attention from Howard’s incredible performance. This girl is 23 years old, singing with force and reckless precision that’s hard to believe.

Nothing was more unbelievable than Howard’s performance of the band’s calling card “Hold On.” The song starts slowly, building quickly on the power of Howard’s voice. “Yeah, you got to wait,” screams Howard, with the band dropping out one beat before “wait,” leaving Howard solo. The word has never sounded so good. You can feel your soul pushing into your throat as you try to match her. It can’t be done.

The feel-goods continued with the new “Always Alright,” an old-school track with a fun beat and lots of “I don’t give a damn”-s. This was no-gimmicks music. Just solid, Alabama Shakes awesomeness.

After the onslaught of powerful, hard-hitting singles, Howard took it down a notch with “Boys & Girls” and “Be Mine.” Even without belting from the depths of her lungs, and even without her guitar, Howard still managed to mesmerize the Milwaukee crowd.

“You Ain’t Alone” is Alabama Shakes’ heart-stompingly beautiful power ballad. Howard is truly special; some incredible combination of Patti Labelle, Adele, and Janis Joplin. The intensity she brings to this song could bring a crowd to its knees.

Instead the crowd stood, and a wild standing ovation brought the band back for an encore, with Howard blasting “I Ain’t The Same.”

For the sake of soul music, let’s hope Alabama Shakes return again and again.

Categories: Life & Leisure, Rock

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