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Alabama Shakes - Brixton Electric, London - 3rd May 2012 (Live Review)

Friday, 04 May 2012 Written by Ryan Crittenden
Alabama Shakes - Brixton Electric, London - 3rd May 2012 (Live Review)

It is hard to think of a band around at the moment that has quite so much hype surrounding them. Since breaking in the Official UK Album Charts at Number Three with their critically acclaimed debut album ‘Boys & Girls,’ the five piece from The Athens, Alabama have gone from strength to strength. They arrived at London's Brixton Electric for their first gig in the UK since their album release and it was clear from the extortionate prices that the touts were demanding outside the venue, that a ticket for this show, which originally sold at £12.50, was like gold dust.

For anyone who was lucky enough to arrive at the venue a little early, they would have been treated to one of the best support acts I have seen in a very long time. London four-piece Palma Violets are a kind of unknown entity at the moment, no one really knows anything about them, they don’t have their material sprawled across every social media platform on the internet yet and they are signed by Rough Trade. From early on it is clear to see why this band has been picked up, their sound is fantastic. It is a mixture of a number of styles/bands ranging from the Spiritulized-style organ played by a man in white suit to the vocals of lead singer Sam Fryers, who sounds like a cross between Ian McCulloch and Ellery James Roberts, lead singer of WU LYF. It is fast and frantic at times but also reserved and calmly executed at others, the songs are short and direct but clever - hints of Nick Cave mixed with The Horrors if that makes sense?

The most notable man on the stage is the bass player; he puts in a truly remarkable performance. Mad as a box of frogs he frolics round the stage swinging his bass around and flinging his indie fringe about. If he is not providing an effectively good bass line he is shouting or dancing like a man possessed. Failing this he is doing all of these things at the same time. The guitar riffs from front man Fryers are so very impressive, and with a supporting cast of talent behind him, the 25 minute set is remarkably good. The bass player looks humbled that so many people are enjoying their sound and admits that this is the biggest stage they have ever played, and it shows. Not in a bad way though. They have such a raw and unrefined sound mixed with a fearless, nothing to lose attitude the beauty of the performance is just that.

Tracks names are a bit of a mystery at the moment but ‘I Wanna Be Your Best Friend’, ‘Last of the Summer Wine’, ‘All the Garden Birds’ and ‘Happy Endings’ are titles I picked up on. This is a band to look out for.

Arriving on stage to a surprisingly reserved reception, Alabama Shakes kicked things off with the rather somber ‘Goin’ to the Party.’ The sold out venue remained eerily quiet as everyone in attendance just seemed to stand back in admiration and anticipation. The five-piece went on to play a mixed set of songs from the album and despite only releasing 'Boys & Girls' last month; some brand new tracks were showcased.

ImageThe familiar drum beat of their single ‘Hold On’ sparked the first real moment of the gig. The extended intro only added to the excitement of the crowd who were just eager to join lead singer Brittany Howard to croon the excellent chorus. It was performed brilliantly and rightly received a massive reception, which seemed to settle the whole band. New tracks 'Making Me Itch' and 'Always Alright' nestle nicely amongst album tracks, with the new numbers following the same pattern that has made the debut album such a success.

Each member of the tight-knit group goes about their business in their own little way, bringing it all together to create this magnificent sound that resonates around the packed venue. It’s the stand-out performance of effortlessly cool front woman Brittany Howard that seems to grab all the attention though. Everything Howard does is full of heart, emotion and most of all an unquestionable amount of soul. Whether it be on ‘Hang Loose’ where the beautifully American guitar riff is complemented by her voice or a song like ‘Boys & Girls’ which allows Howard to highlight her expansive vocal range in front of a minimal backing track.

Interaction with the crowd is kept at a minimum, Brittany Howard offers a few background stories to some of the songs alongside a few heartfelt messages of thanks but they really do just let their music do the talking. A 'Boys & Girls' trio in the form of 'Be Mine', 'I Ain't the Same' and 'You Ain't Alone' formed the basis of a lovely mid set performance. The three tracks worked brilliantly together as the varying changes in pace were executed well. ‘Be Mine’ saw Howard drop her guitar and lead from the front with a performance to rival and front man or woman in music. Mike in hand, she roams around the stage exerting so much energy and gusto which is felt throughout the crowd as the packed house get the band all fired up for brilliant finale.

As the gig comes to a close, the pace goes up a few gears. New track 'Mama' has that rockabilly blues feel to it that sets everything up perfectly for the final track of the set and song of the album ‘Heavy Chevy.’ After checking that everyone is ready to go, the five-piece launch into a track which is just too good, it has that feeling that it could have been recorded anytime over the last 50/60 years and wouldn’t be out of place. It is loud, energetic and has a rockabilly guitar riff to die for. A rather enthusiastic crowd member next to me gets so in to it I thought she was going to explode but as she turns round to me at the end of the song she exclaims “That right there is how all music should sound” and I cannot help but agree with her on that one. Leaving the stage to a rapturous response, it is fair to say the gig has been a success.

With nods of approval around the venue, the baying crowd wanted more of Alabama Shakes so they obviously let them know in an all clapping, all stomping fashion. The band duly oblige and return for a very good encore, playing 'On Your Way' and new track 'Heat Lightning', where Howard gets a chance to thank everyone in attendance with an improvised rendition.

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