Alabama Shakes have untouchable momentum. A person with no previous Shakes experience (good luck finding them) would never have been able to guess that this young five piece only just debuted their first studio album last year. A nice, long set met wild cheers from “long”-time fans and those who might just be coming around due to the band’s grammy nominations or late-night tv performances or heavy radio play or indie movie soundtracks or…phew, this is a hard working band. Whatever the case was, this was a precious concert ticket. You can only describe the Ogden Theatre as “packed” or “very sold-out” so many times before you’re faced with a new standard by which to judge. The buzziest of buzz bands have never been able to fill that place like the Shakes did on Saturday.
It was no surprise that the Alabama Shakes’ groove was tight. The band has never faltered. The restrained, sturdy play from the instrumentalists — kept in sync by bassist and Shakes co-founder Zac Cockrell — was a reliably solid platform for the dynamo frontwoman Brittany Howard. There was no masking it, everything in Saturday’s show was built to showcase this amazingly talented woman. And she brought it. When Howard sings, she makes you forget the effective hooks of the guitar parts or the really nice way a chord progression leads you emotionally. Her voice catches you off-guard because there aren’t young people that sing this way in pop music any more. She roars and coos a huge range that’s right on the edge of too much energy. She has that knack for looking like everything she does is easy, but what’s really the secret is if she doesn’t let all the music that’s in her out, she’ll explode like that dude in “Scanners.”
It was definitely the “Brittany show” as the Alabama Shakes stuck to their own material. They didn’t play the new single “I Wonder” (a Rodriguez cover which comes out from Third Man Records on Tuesday). They may be limiting how much solo work from Howard makes it into an Alabama Shakes tour. They did play the great new song “Making Me Itch,” which picks up the pace quite a bit and is written to be a timeless hit. You can hear it fitting in on “American Bandstand” 50 years ago or Letterman next month. This type of roots rock is fun and easy to like, so don’t expect Alabama Shakes to slow down one tick.
The show was rock and roll at its most pure. It was a great time, but that was also the expectation. It’s not as dangerous as rock was back in the days when this sound was new. It makes people move the same way, but churches aren’t burning this music in the streets anymore. You won’t ever be surprised at an Alabama Shakes show, but that’s just fine if you like what they’re selling.
I Found You
Goin’ to the Party
Rise to the Sun
Boys & Girls
I Ain’t the Same
Making Me Itch
On Your Way
You Ain’t Alone
Marc Hobelman makes websites at The Denver Post, tweets pictures of his cat and is a regular contributor to Reverb.
Seth McConnell is a member of YourHub at The Denver Post and a regular contributor to Reverb.