After last night’s Alabama Shakes show at Bowery Ballroom, all I wanted to do (and what I did) was walk/skip to a bar to meet up with some friends. Why is this relevant, aside from pointing out that I do, in fact, have friends? It’s relevant because that’s what Alabama Shakes is all about: good times with better friend. But don’t take my word for it. Lead singer Brittany Howard kicked off the title track from the group’s unbelievably good debut album Boys And Girls with a dedication: “When I was a little girl, I was best friends with a little boy. As we got older, people told us we were too old to be friends. Yeah, I thought that was some bullshit too. We’re not as good of friends now. I wrote him this song.” It’s that kind of charm that makes Alabama Shakes rise above the deluge of classic-rock-infused bands coming out of the woodwork right now.
The band’s lyrics are simple by choice. The songs are relatable, right down to “Rise To The Sun” and its climactic “I wake up! Rise to the sun! I go to work! Then I come back home!” It’s not a complex idea, but the combination of forceful music stops and an impassioned delivery make them sound like the most important words ever sung. Speaking of the musicality: the band is tight live, with every note sounding as vibrant as on the record. The drums could have used a bit more kick to them, but who can complain when the guitars were so crisp?
Especially impressive was the downright ecstatic ending to “Be Mine”, the most frantic song on Boys And Girls; behind the impassioned yells of their singer (“SO BE MINE!”), the foursome providing the music to the proceedings stepped up to deliver a moment of pure excitement. It was a revelatory moment, especially considering that Howard is usually the first thing people notice about the band. That’s not to say that it shouldn’t be that way: her voices is wonderful on record and it sounds even better with her infusion of passion live. I was lucky enough to nab a spot right in front of her, and watching her effort and dedication to busting her vocal chords was a sight to see.
I have to give a shout-out to the crowd in attendance as well. Normally, the audience at Bowery Ballroom is respectful yet stoic. Last night? It wasn’t quite a hoedown, like one girl said to her friend, but it wasn’t that far off. One can imagine that shows in the band’s home state draw some good ol’ Southern fun. It was impressive to see how many people knew all the words as well. At times, Howard would lower her volume to let the crowd take over, to a resounding success. It outlines a simple and basic truth about the act of going to a show: your fellow attendees are just as important as the people on stage. So when the band kicks into album standout “You Ain’t Alone” and everyone shouts along with the gorgeous sentiment of, “You ain’t alone/Just let me be/Your ticket home,” it stirs something in each person in a very real way. To answer the question, we’re not scared of you, Alabama Shakes. We just want to be your friends.