Three months ago, Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard demonstrated her Prince fandom on Saturday Night Live by wearing earrings of The Purple One's face during a stirring version of her band's "Gimme All Your Love."
On Monday night, Howard was standing not five feet from the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer as he ripped through a spine-tingling guitar solo on that same song in front of 1,800 dedicated fans at his famous recording complex, Chanhassen's Paisley Park.
Nobody captured out-of-focus would-be Instagrams or shaky YouTube clips of that special cameo or any of the Grammy-nominated foursome's excellent 19-song set, thanks to the studio's strict no-phone, no-camera policy. You'd be hard-pressed to find one attendee complaining about that, though.
This was the kind of concert you had to stand on an otherwise-random suburban block two hours for, ordering Jimmy Johns or playing hacky sack in line to pass the time outside and (gasp!) making old-school conversation with those around you once entrenched in the studio. Nobody wants an iPad videographer blocking their view the entire time after all that.
Monday's show, sponsored by 89.3 The Current, was announced just a day in advance, summoning those who didn't get enough of Alabama Shakes at Saturday's sold-out, 8,000 capacity gig at Hall's Island in Minneapolis to the western reaches of the Twin Cities. It was first-come, first-serve, with the most hardcore Shakes devotees queuing up early in the afternoon.
Howard and her band of roots rockers actually made it feel like their Hall's Island concert was the warm-up show and Paisley Park was the big gig, rather than a semi-secret show they played on a lark before heading off to the next tour stop. Save for one exception, it was the same collection of songs they aired in Minneapolis, but something clicked Monday even more than it did at Saturday's well-reviewed show. Perhaps it was the refined running order, but it's more likely that you instinctively bring your A-game when you're staring out at a giant Prince logo all night.
The Shakes, currently promoting sophomore release Sound & Color, treated their fanbase's Minnesota contingent to all but one song from that Billboard chart-topper, earning a huge applause with hit single "Don't Wanna Fight" and putting the room in a trance with the ambitious "Gemini."
Appearing as the second-to-last song of the main set, new track "Gimme All Your Love" was naturally the highlight of the night. The emotive anthem, which features one of Howard's best vocal turns to date, seemed over too soon when the singer quieted it to a whisper after about three minutes. Then, without any announcement from the band, the man who inspired her SNL jewelry walked onstage and picked up his guitar. The rest of the song may have lasted two minutes and it may have gone for another five; I couldn't tell you. It was that kind of perfect moment.
The venue's owner exited the stage in the same way he entered it - quietly yet loudly. Minnesota music legend barely acknowledged the crowd and there was no "Thanks, Prince!" or "Ladies and gentlemen, The Purple One!" from Howard, but his time on stage received what were easily the biggest cheers of the night.
Not that Howard's an especially talkative musician in the first place. "I'm not the most eloquent speaker," the shy 26-year-old Southerner told the crowd about halfway through the night's proceedings (she does all the talking with her music). "But everything I tell you tonight is the truth."
True, there wasn't much between-song interaction between Howard and the audience at the Hall's Island gig, but she was brought out of her shell by several conversation-starters Monday. "How was fishing today?" asked one crowd member.
"I didn't go fishing today, but I went fishing yesterday," she replied, reporting that she'd caught a sunfish and a largemouth bass, a haul that seemed to impress those from the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
The same female fan's repeated calls for the group's signature song, "Hold On," went unrequited. They've only played Rolling Stone's favorite song of 2012 once on this tour, with several members being quoted about how they don't want to be defined by their biggest hit.
The group's debut, 2012's Boys & Girls, still got plenty of love in the setlist Monday night. "Rise to the Sun" proved a rousing opener, while the trio of "Be Mine," "I Ain't the Same," and "On Your Way" provided some of the best (non-Prince) musical moments of the entire night.
Alabama Shakes now head off to Indiana with tourmate Father John Misty before beginning a summer of huge international festivals like Glastonbury, Rock Werchter, and Lollapalooza. That latter Chicago fest is their closest upcoming gig and they're playing right before Sir Paul McCartney, so somebody find Brittany her "Yellow Submarine" earrings.
Critic's Bias: I listened to Boys & Girls a good amount when it came out a few summers ago, but I haven't quite given Sound & Color a fair shake yet (pun intended). I was at the Hall's Island show and Alabama Shakes' outdoor Cabooze gig in 2013, and this was easily my favorite of the three.
Seen in the Line: Parking was hard to find, so one driver had his friend move a couple cones blocking off the side street that the line snaked around to, drove into that restricted area, displaced what looked like a fire department water pipe, and parked. Then, the whole car joined their friends in line, much to the outward chagrin of several in line.
The Setlist: Rise to the Sun Always Alright Future People Shoegaze Hang Loose Miss You Heartbreaker Guess Who Sound & Color Don't Wanna Fight Be Mine I Ain't the Same On Your Way Dunes Gimme All Your Love Gemini
Encore: Over My Head The Greatest You Ain't Alone
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