Review: Alabama Shakes

SECRET'S OUT: Alabama Shakes lead singer Brittany Howard commands the stage.
SECRET'S OUT: Alabama Shakes lead singer Brittany Howard commands the stage.

Alabama Shakes' overnight success comes as no surprise to anyone who has seen them live in concert.

They proved to Auckland why they're worth their three Grammy nominations - best new artist, best rock performance and best record packaging - when they hit the stage at The Powerstation last night as they played their 2012 debut Boys & Girls. A few new songs in the encore were an added bonus.

Critics have called them the "female" version of Kings of Leon. Those people are wrong.

They haven't seen lead singer Brittany Howard belt out her throaty tunes. They haven't experienced her wild-eyed enthusiasm as she beats down the blues. They haven't seen her stand on her tip-toes when she croons out her highest notes guitar in hand. They simply haven't listened closely enough. And they're missing out.

Howard kicked off last night's show with the very brief Goin' to the Party, before diving straight into fan favourites I Found You and Hang Loose.

The band - made up of guitarist Heath Fogg, bass player Zac Cockrell, drummer Steve Johnson and keyboard player Ben Tanner - are undoubtedly full of soul, but while Howard commands the stage, they look static in comparison. Keep in mind though, they've been touring for less than a year and maybe they just need to find their feet.

But Howard has found her comfort zone - she's the star of the show and she proved that when she belted out Hold On and followed it up with the most crowd pleasing song of the night, Always Alright.

Howard's voice is mature for her 24 years and she sounds better in person than any clip you'd find on YouTube. 

How she keeps up her throaty voice is anyone's guess, but last night's set was littered with conversation in a southern drawl - and before launching into Heartbreaker, she explained to the crowd: "I'll play you a song that was a strain to write, but that's the way life goes."

Howard's lyrics are very personal but she's not afraid to share her secrets, telling the crowd what Boys & Girls meant to her.

"Lemme tell y'all a story. When I was a little girl I had a best friend. My best friend was a boy and we used to do everything together. And when we got older, people they said we couldn't be friends. I thought, 'That's some bullshit'."

They closed off with Be Mine and while the older crowd remained relatively subdued - perhaps in awe - they refused to budge once the stage went quiet.

And it's a good thing they waited - Alabama Shakes weren't done yet. We were promised new material, and we got it, including a song called The Bridge in which Howard declares her love yet again to an unnamed "Boy".

"Ya'll make me feel so good," she crooned as she sang goodnight to the crowd. 

Alabama Shakes made us feel good too, and we hope to see "y'all again" very soon.

Auckland Now