Alabama Shakes at First Avenue, 8/2/12

Alabama Shakes at First Avenue, 8/2/12
Photo By Stacy Schwartz

Alabama Shakes and Dry The River
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Thursday, August 2, 2012

See Also:
Slideshow: Alabama Shakes and Dry The River at First Avenue

"Sometimes I don't know what to say. It doesn't mean I don't love you," said a breathless Brittany Howard to the audience last night, as the Alabama Shakes were winding down their marathon show. "It just means I love you too much. So I come out here, and I sing to you, and I spit on you, but I'm just trying to express myself."

Expressive she was. Over the course of their 75-minute set, the Alabama Shakes took the sold-out crowd at First Avenue through gale force winds of emotion, where every single song was performed with all the authority and conviction of gospel.

"I remember all those days I waited so patiently for God to bring someone good to me," howls Howard on "I Found You." Howard becomes the character in each song, lets her eyes go wide, and gestures her arms in front of her not as though she's addressing a crowd of 1,500, but the lover who hurt her. Comparisons to Janis Joplin are not reaching: Howard squeezes her heart into every song, every disappointment and every hope.

Attending the Alabama Shakes show last night was like willingly entering the eye of a hurricane. Songs were dizzying--just when you thought the guitar couldn't possibly be faster, the jam couldn't possibly be more ferocious, there went the band. Keyboardist Styrofoam Jones (Ben Tanner) tapped out some frantic keys on "Making Me Itch," and aside from Howard's arena-vocals, it should be noted that the lady can manipulate strings like she's petting a cat.

Alabama Shakes at First Avenue, 8/2/12
Photo By Stacy Schwartz

The crowd was absolutely beside itself. Whatever can be said about Midwestern audiences--mild-mannered, uninterested in dancing, not-easily-enthused--that was all forgotten last night as Howard drew in fans like moths to a flame. The band is young; they released their debut Boys & Girls just this past April, and by all accounts should not be selling out venues at this point in their career. Less than a year ago, the Alabama Shakes were still playing clubs and dives in their native Athens, Alabama, covering AC/DC for spare change--an experience that still influences their live sound, where members play with a recklessness to envy classic rock bands.

It's easy to be skeptical until you see them live. Howard is an untouchable vocal force and absolutely magnetic on stage, like an undiscovered 60's soul gem sent to the future to remind music fans just what raw music sounds like. It is impossible not to have a good time--or the best time--when the Alabama Shakes are shaking, sweating, cursing, and expressing themselves freely on stage.

"This could be the best night God ever gave us," continued Howard through the bridge and beyond of "You Ain't Alone," where she half-sang, half-spoke to the crowd. And for a few moments there, man, it sure did seem like it was.

Alabama Shakes at First Avenue, 8/2/12
Photo By Stacy Schwartz

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: From the moment I listened to "Hold On," I was a fan... but even then, I don't think I was prepared for the give-you-my-soul performance that was last night.

The Crowd: Mixed, relatively young, and so enthusiastic.

Overheard in the crowd: "Marry me!" screamed one audience member close to Howard at one point, to which she replied, obviously embarrassed, "You're too young! He wants to start a family already... we just met!" Also, every time Howard said "fuck" in some way ("fuck him," "fuck you," "I don't give a fuck," "motherfucking," etc.), the crowd erupted in cheers.

Random notebook dump: I hate to lump openers Dry The River in this postscript, because they were fantastic and certainly deserve their own write-up. A little Great Lake Swimmers vocally meets twang and blues--all the way from London, no less--plus some pretty trippy midset guitar jams makes for a band you should definitely go see on September 29 when they are back in town at the Triple Rock.

Setlist: (Assembled as best I could. If I messed it up, please note in the comments.)

Goin' To The Party
Hold On
Hang Loose
I Found You
Rise To The Sun
Boys & Girls
Be Mine
Always Alright
Making Me Itch
I Ain't The Same
You Ain't Alone
On Your Way
Hang Loose

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >