LIVE: Alabama Shakes @ Higher Ground, 4/14/12

Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes
Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes

Review and photographs by Kirsten Ferguson. See more of Kirsten’s photos from this show here.

“Let’s give them a Northern welcome,” says Higher Ground co-owner Kevin Statesir as he introduces Alabama Shakes to the stage of the South Burlington, Vermont nightclub, which is celebrating its 14th anniversary. Statesir marks the occasion at the end of the sold-out show by giving out free, limited-edition Alabama Shakes prints designed to look like vintage posters for a doo-wop dance party.

The young phenoms in Alabama Shakes – who added the “Alabama” to their name as an afterthought, to avoid confusion with other bands called the Shakes – are making their first appearance in the Green Mountain State. Just three years ago, singer/guitarist Brittany Howard and bassist Zac Cockrell were meeting after high school in their small town of Athens, Alabama, to write songs. Last year, the band signed a record deal with ATO to release their debut album, “Boys & Girls,” and they’ve since exploded, instantly selling out most of the dates on their recent East Coast tour.

It’s a South-meets-North night, with Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires – a high-energy, Dixie-punk band from Birmingham, Alabama, with a set of great songs – opening up the show. It’s their first time playing in Vermont, too, and I write down that they sound a lot like the Dexateens, an under-heralded, now-defunct Alabama garage-rock band, before going home and reading that Lee Bains III had been one of the guitarists in the Dexateens.

Whatever assumptions there may be about Alabama Shakes given their fast rise and all the hype, Howard just about shatters them when she opens her mouth and a world of raw emotion pours out. Between songs, Howard seems shy, quiet and unassuming, like a Gibson-guitar-toting librarian in a flower-patterned housedress.

But appearances are deceiving. Cockrell, guitarist Heath Fogg, drummer Steve Johnson and keyboardist Ben Tanner lay down a tasteful groove as Howard wails, shakes and gruffly hollers through deeply personal songs like “Hold On,” a desperate pick-me-up for herself, and “Boys & Girls,” about the injustice of being told she and her childhood male friend were too old to still pal around.

Goin’ to the Party
Hold On
Hang Loose
I Found You
Always Alright
Boys & Girls
Be Mine
Worryin’ Blues
Rise to the Sun
Making Me Itch
You Ain’t Alone
Heavy Chevy

Alabama Shakes: (L to R) Zac Cockrell and Heath Fogg
Alabama Shakes: (L to R) Zac Cockrell and Heath Fogg
Alabama Shakes: Brittany Howard and Zac Cockrell
Alabama Shakes: Brittany Howard and Zac Cockrell
Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires: (L to R) Matt Wurtele, Lee Bains III, Blake Williamson
Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires: (L to R) Matt Wurtele, Lee Bains III, Blake Williamson
  1. Roger Noyes says

    Just got my copy of “Boys and Girls” in the mail today (yes, I still buy CDs!). Can’t wait to give it a listen later tonight.

  2. Rick Reuben says

    Heard the hype, then watched the video. You can’t fake what they are doing. it may just end up being one good album of young rock but it sure beats the Pitchfork “best of” bands like Interpol and the like.

    Give ’em hell, Brittany!

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