The Retro Cool of Alabama Shakes: Concert Review

Chris Godley
Singer Brittany Howard's strong, soulful vocals bring to mind the greats of yesteryear -- and we're all better for it.

Near the end of their second sold-out night at the Hollywood Palladium, Alabama Shakes broke out their forceful cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Adam Raised A Cain,” a song they dazzled with earlier this year at the MusiCares Person of the Year tribute to The Boss. It's a track where Springsteen’s literary influences can be felt most deeply. Wearing the southern, gothic imprint of William Faulkner, the Darkness On The Edge Of Town number is a perpetual show stopper when Springsteen breaks it out.

It had the same effect at the Palladium, but more than that, it gave serious insight into just who Alabama Shakes are -- a fearless, powerhouse live band rooted, like Springsteen, in blues, country, folk and rock.

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The quartet, which was a five-piece on stage and featured a vocal cameo by Drive By Truckers' Patterson Hood, opened with the twangy “Goin’ To The Party,” a slow, bluesy belter that served as a nice warm-up to show off frontwoman Brittany Howard’s powerful voice. The Grammy-nominated “Hold On,” nominated for Best Rock Performance, was a full sing-along as the sold-out throng embraced the engaging hook. They did the same for the next number, the reggae-tinged “Rise To The Sun.”

Although Alabama Shakes can out-muscle most rock bands on the strength of Howard’s vocals, the band does an effective job of blending that power with easy to digest melodies and subtlety, like on the intesifying crescendo of the blues-driven “I Found You” and the good-time '50s rock vibe of closer “Heavy Chevy.”

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Of course, when Howard lets loose fully, as she does on the Otis Redding-esque “You Ain’t Alone,” the soulful reach-for-the-sky vocals of “I Ain’t The Same,” or the ferocious opening of “On Your Way,” it is a sound to behold -- and one that sends the crowd into the biggest tizzy.

Indeed, as compelling as the Shakes are live -- and they are an unquestionable force -- the most exciting part of the show might have been watching thousands of music fans, many of whom were in their teens and twenties, losing their minds and rocking out to songs that conjured up the true greats, from Redding and Chuck Berry to Springsteen. Keeping that spirit alive, and exposing new fans to what is, in a sense, quintessential American music, may be the Shakes' greatest gift.

Set List:

Going To The Party
Hold On
Rise To The Sun
I Found You
Always Alright
Making Me Itch
Hang Loose
I Ain't The Same
Worrying Blues
Boys & Girls
Be Mine
You Ain't Alone


Gimme All Yo Love
On Your Way
Heat Lightning
Adam Raised A Cain
Heavy Chevy

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