Imagine the most important hug of your life. You’ve reached some sort of failure and you know some sad days are in your future. The devastation of whatever tragedy you’ve just gone through is setting in and all of the sudden someone you love has engulfed you in their arms and for a moment you realize everything is going to be alright. This feeling is what an Alabama Shakes concert sounds like. Brittany Howard’s spectacular voice cuts through the air like a knife, grasping every emotion you’ve ever felt, and exploding into a whirlwind of soothing, bluesy sounds with the soul of Ray Charles and pure rock and roll power of Jimi Hendrix.
“We’ve been waitin’ all day to play.” I think what makes Alabama Shakes so fantastic is the pure love the entire group shares for everything they do. A few songs into the set Brittany Howard stopped what she was doing and declared that the group had been having an impatient afternoon of waiting for their set time. The stage is their home and they love it there. There’s no sense of duty. Everything they do is derivative of their pure admiration of the beauty of music and the act of pouring your heart out on stage.
The 30 minutes I spent waiting in the audience before the Shakes stepped out were a bit uncomfortable. The rest of the day had left me feeling underwhelmed. Perhaps I was just not in the mood but, I felt tired and I was quite happy that I was able to cop the tickets from the generosity of CKUT. My concert buddy was not super familiar with the band and he also seemed underwhelmed by some of the other acts at the Festival. The band walked on stage and a weak yell left my mouth. Then something magical happened. The music started and the first notes were uttered by Brittany Howard. Goosebumps immediately covered my arms and my friend and I made eye contact and I swear his jaw was on the ground. I think the lyric was just a simple “ooo” but the soul and beauty of Howard’s voice has such an impact that those two seconds when the band cut out evoked such a great feeling in my body I knew the next 90 minutes were going to be fantastic.
The goosebumps never left. The entire set was perfect and had my full attention the entire time. The band’s interpretation of dynamics is straightforward and simple, but very effective. It seems like Brittany is either singing really quietly about to explode or in the middle of said explosion. One of the most epic explosions was during the song “Give Me All Your love.” It uses that classic Alabama Shakes songwriting technic where the band cuts out to advertise Brittany’s voice then comes back in to make the sound even bigger except this time it was just all about Brittany. Slow tempo driving and driving then the line comes out and at the top of her vocal intensity Howard strums that power chord louder than anything I’ve ever heard and gives the audience one of her beautiful “hooos.” I couldn’t even think at that moment I could just feel all of the energy soaring over the crowd. It was absolutely stunning. That’s what it’s all about.
We can talk all day about melodic genius or technical prowess or whatever makes music sound good on paper, but at the end of the day the best thing in the world is experiencing a group lay it all out there. It’s not about tomorrow, the rest of our career, or what the critics think, we’re gonna give it all we got right now. The Alabama Shakes are the epitome of this idea. They absolutely crushed it at MRCY and they truly made my weekend.
-Review by Donovan Burtan