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Review: Alabama Shakes warms up on Oahu
REVIEW BY GARY CHUN / email@example.com
“She brought out my inner female.”
A male audience member may have said that half-jokingly to his friend as they were leaving last night’s Alabama Shakes concert at the Republik, but there was no doubting the self-assured power of frontwoman Brittany Howard, blessed with a voice that spoke volumes of deep emotion.
Howard professed her love for the people of Hawaii and an audience that crossed generations responded in kind. And while the show was basically a warmup leading to the band’s month-long tour through Australia (bookended with shows in Auckland and Tokyo), the band was plenty busy with touring during its breakout 2012, thanks in large part to one of the year’s best songs (“Hold On”).
The band wasted no time in getting that piece of business out of the way, as Alabama Shakes pretty much kicked off the concert with that hearty singalong. And it was only fitting it was followed by the Hawaii-inspired “Hang Loose.”
Throughout the night, Howard could’ve easily overplayed the drama of her rich, singing voice, but she kept in the pocket, much like the rolling Southern groove her bandmates — Heath Fogg (tasty guitar), Zac Cockrell (bass), Steve Johnson (drums) and guest keyboard player Stanford Jones — provided. I’ve never heard a band use space and brief pauses as well to make any given tune’s emotion that much more poignant.
While pretty much all of the songs from the band’s debut were played during Friday’s show, there were a couple of surprises. One was the candid and tart “Always Alright,” from the soundtrack of multiple Oscar nominee “Silver Linings Playbook,” and an impromptu debut of a new, title-unknown song because Howard was happy the band sold out the show. It was a twist-y little number.
The middle part of the concert was probably the meatiest, showcasing Howard’s vocal. It was a section of plaintive, real hurtin’ songs — the yearning and release of “Rise to the Sun” segued into “Heartbreaker,” which Howard described “as a terrible shame to write a song like this.” Her voice expertly moved through moments of anger, frustration, and finally quiet resignation that fully illustrated the song’s title. The section concluded with “Boys & Girls” that relived the pain of a lost friendship and featured the nuances of Howard’s singing.
There’s no denying that the woman has a God-given voice and she continued to use it to best effect on other album songs — the fight to find strength of “On Your Own” and the spiritual cleansing power of “You Ain’t Alone,” filled with that rootsy Otis Redding sound that could’ve come directly from the Stax recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee.
The encore directed the audience to the promised land: The change found from within of “I Ain’t the Same,” then “I Still Ain’t Got What I Want,” and finally the exultant joy of “Heat Lightning.”
“I don’t know who you are, but I’m awfully glad you came,” Howard declared.
As the final notes faded she added, “Mahalo! Thank you!!”
No, Brittany and the band, thank YOU.
One more note: it was nice to hear local acts Tavana and Mano Kane get a solid response from the crowd. Their short but thoughtful sets showed that Hawaii is becoming home to some truly noteworthy musicianship.