Alabama Shakes at Cabooze Outdoor Plaza, 7/28/13

Categories: Last Night
Erik Hess
Alabama Shakes
With Eleganza
Cabooze Outdoor Plaza, Minneapolis
Sunday, July 28, 2013

As the Alabama Shakes unfurled the steady, elliptical riff of their hit "Hold On," the sun set behind the crowd at the Cabooze Outdoor Plaza Sunday night, and it briefly felt as if the whole world was in sync. The sky was awash with shades of pink and orange, the stage lights cast the band in bright red, and the whole crowd seemed to sway in unison, the majority of them singing along to the song. Such is the effect the Athens quartet can have on its fans.

Of course, such things are fleeting, even with a band like the Alabama Shakes, who almost certainly are at their best when playing in person, rather than merely on record. For most the rest of their show last night, it was singer Brittany Howard who provided most of the fireworks, and at times, that proved a bit of a problem. As gifted as she may be, she alone couldn't make the world stop turning.

See Also:
Slideshow: Alabama Shakes at Cabooze Outdoor Plaza

Howard is without a doubt the center of this band -- words like "heart" and "soul" seem unusually appropriate in her case -- and as a performer her energy never seems to sag. For sure, it never did at the Cabooze. Hers is a voice that has less to do with range than it does with delivery, more to do with the passion of her voice than with perfect pitch or even versatility -- although, with that said, it can move at once from a sugary drawl to a foot-stomping, full-throated shout. She sings with her entire body, and the words course through her.

Erik Hess

Erik Hess
Here in the Midwest, this kind of music sometimes get referred to as "meat and potatoes" -- hearty, old-school music, music that's simple and recognizable, maybe even comforting. Certainly, there's nothing particularly groundbreaking about the Alabama Shakes. And yet this band is wholly Southern, and much of that, too, is down to Howard (and not just because of that large tattoo of Alabama on her right bicep). The emotional heft of what Howard had to say wasn't only in the way she said it -- although, really, without that voice, how could she sell it so well? -- but also in the simplicity of their truths.

Right from the beginning of the night, that tone was set: These were songs about "holding on" and "hanging loose," about confused 20-somethings trying to figure out how to be adults, trying to figure out why the world is unfair, and just plain trying to get by. Howard's songs are a matter of wisdom learned, not imparted, of mistakes and regrets that your parents could warn you about but that you'll just have to experience for yourself. They're universal truths, yes, but something in their sensibility is inherently Southern. "How was I supposed to know?" she asked on "Heartbreaker." "Mama couldn't tell me."

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